The term “food safety” generally refers to practices used in food handling, storage, and preparation that preserve the quality of food while preventing contamination and spread of foodborne disease. People at every stage of the food supply chain work hard to prevent food from becoming affected, but this can still happen in many ways. Some food products may already contain parasites or bacteria, while others get contaminated during the packaging process. All types of food can become contaminated, but red meat, eggs, poultry, cheese, dairy products, raw sprouts, fish, and shellfish pose a higher risk.
Frequently, foodborne diseases result from a failure to follow proper hygiene practices, especially when handling raw and unpackaged products. Improper cooking, storing, and reheating can also increase the risk of bacterial contamination.
Many food suppliers, distributors, and retailers are working hard to keep the supply of food safe and healthy. But food safety issues continue to arise regularly.
Modern Food Safety? Not So Modern!
Private and public sector stakeholders share a responsibility to ensure that food produced, shipped, and sold are as safe as possible for consumers. And the food safety regulatory landscape is always changing as a result of new developments in science and technology—the latest being the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). In the midst of FSMA implementation in 2016, many organizations are working hard to ensure they meet all the new requirements.
QA managers are playing a key role in this process. Yet QA managers everywhere agree that they are swamped with paperwork. It may sound hard to believe, but paper and pencil checklists remain the tool of choice for many organizations to manage food safety in the 21st century. Time and temperature logs, training checklists, sanitation schedules, and many more are still recorded on clipboards by most QA managers.
A QA manager is also responsible for ensuring all front-line workers are up to speed on food safety rules and best practices, walking through the company’s locations several times a day with clipboard in hand to review a list of safety and quality measures.
The QA manager will then manually key this data into a spreadsheet, create reports, and file the results with industry partners, third party auditors, and government regulators. These seemingly routine and time-consuming compliance tasks matter: they are critical in ensuring safe, high quality food. Moreover, failing to comply with the appropriate laws can lead to costly penalties, permitting delays, loss of business from industry partners (such as retailers with strict requirements), and even legal action.
Technology has taken over many aspects in day-to-day living, but the management of food safety is a notable exception. Decades ago, it was feasible for food businesses to handle the amount of paperwork manually, but now the rules have changed. Businesses across the food industry must abide by numerous rules and regulations that govern every aspect of food production, delivery, sale, and storage. These legal requirements are complex, overlapping, and change every couple of years. The laws are designed, of course, to protect consumers. But an expanding body of regulations and fear of litigation have increased the time, cost, and stress of compliance for most food businesses.
In light of these developments, traditional methods of pen-and-paper QA and compliance are increasingly inefficient and inadequate.
Why Invest in Mobile Technology?
Mobile technology makes it easier to comply with the growing body of local, state, and federal guidelines that regulate food safety. Using mobile software can benefit food businesses in several ways.
- No more pen and paper. Replacing paper-and-pencil clipboards with digital tools saves time and money. Digital audits and task-lists can be logged and tracked, ensuring that staff are performing tasks in real-time. Digital entries are more accountable—managers can confirm when and where tasks were done (including requiring photos to be taken). And digital clipboards can also be loaded with reference materials like images and training videos, helping staff learn best practices and prepare for inspections by government agencies.
- Quality and safety checklists. Instead of letting employees complete tasks ad hoc and make notes on clipboards and log books, companies can use quality and safety checklists to ensure key tasks are standardized across the organization. For example, data can be collected showing that a company is always forgetting to label produce with an expiration date. Digital food safety and quality checklists loaded on smartphones or tablets makes it easier to ensure that all employees are following compliance standards and best practices.
- Automated reports. Instead of sifting through binders filled with audit logs, food safety software captures and stores data in a structured format—making it easy to search and analyze. Why waste hours at the end of every week or month sifting through binders full of paper, when software enables you to generate insights with the click of a button?
- Real-time, centralized management. Food companies often have multiple employees responsible for conducting quality, safety, and compliance tasks at several sites. For companies with employees working at multiple facilities, mobile software can be used by staff at each location to help managers track performance by location, provide critical alerts in real time and give employees immediate feedback to continuously improve food safety operations.
Mobile software technology can help food companies of all sizes effectively manage time-consuming tasks around food safety, QA, and compliance—from digitizing audit logs for analysis to creating automated filings for supply chain partners. Indeed, mobile software is now an essential tool for ensuring food safety and quality—the stakes are simply too high to continue relying on outdated, error-prone methods that may have worked in the past.
Suri is the CEO and co-founder of MeWe, Inc. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.