The Future of Food Health and Safety in the Digital Age

David Teasdale, General Manager of Dishwashers Direct, discusses possible changes coming that are likely to affect food businesses leading up to 2020; mainly to do with the way food standards are monitored in this digital age.

Firstly, it’s important to know what’s happening. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has pledged to change the way food businesses are monitored by 2020. For starters: there will be a renewed focus on the consumer having the right to make culinary choices based on fact, not fabrication. That means the FSA will be doing everything in its power to make sure food is exactly what it claims to be.

Dining out is a growing trend, and for the past decade there has been year on year growth in the number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners that are being consumed in the nation’s cafés and restaurants. Food industry insight consultancy Horizons predicts that the UK food service sector will grow by £10 billion to be worth £56.3 billion by 2019, driven by pizza delivery outlets, managed branded pubs and restaurants, and coffee shops. It’s great news for the industry, but as you can imagine, it might pile a bit of added pressure on staff, and in turn may have a knock-on effect in terms of food safety.

How are customers choosing what to eat and where? Is it based on fact, or fabrication? Well the landscape is changing, now almost every customer is a critic. We live in an age where consumers can hold a fresh sandwich in one hand and write a review of your business on their smartphone with the other. The reach of social media and online reviews means that reputation matters more than ever. Any food safety blunders spread fast and, faced with more choice than ever before, customers will be quick to use online reviews to help decide where to eat. Being alert to what’s being said about you online will become even more important in the run up to 2020.

  • Food businesses that can vouch for the origins of their food, and prove the quality of food will gain a major competitive advantage as sceptical customers search for authenticity and quality. Which ties in quite nicely to food and safety standards, as from last year in 2016, large food businesses are subject to new sentencing guidelines, with drastically increased fines for food safety blunders.
  • This looks set to continue as small food businesses should anticipate stricter sentencing as the FSA moves to crack down on manufacturers, suppliers and retailers who mislead the end customer.

One of the biggest changes anticipated to help improve quality and drive the industry into the future is the end of the pen and paper safety checks. Food safety checks need to be carried out day-by-day, week-by-week and they need to be ready for inspection when the environmental health officer comes knocking. Today, the majority of food businesses use pen and paper-based safety checks for at least part of their overall food safety plan. Pen and paper can be cheap, readily available and requires minimal effort upfront. But pen and paper-based safety checks have considerable downsides. And the more sites you have, the bigger the problem.

They are considered quite tedious, and can be easily falsified, not the mention the potential for human error. Where do businesses store all this paper? Well, it looks like the industry is moving towards technology and will start doing manual checks via digital checklists. This new and improved method does have its benefits. When staff carry out manual checks digitally, they are entered via a mobile like device, automatically time stamped and centrally recorded. No need for form filling. No illegible handwriting, and perhaps less human error.

So, what does the future look like? Perhaps smarter safety management systems are the future. What we do know is that the future of food safety is looking digital. I am talking about systems such as a cloud-based platform which will comprise a work management system that uses digital checklists and alerts to ensure that manual checks are carried out correctly and issues rectified.

In addition, wireless sensing devices can automatically gather data on key areas of your kitchen or storage facility to monitor conditions such as temperature and humidity. It’s now possible to install fixed sensors that automatically capture data on metrics like fridge temperature, hot storage temperature and even the number of times a freezer door has been opened in a given timeframe. Data is transferred, stored, and accessed centrally from any internet enabled device. No need for manual checks. No human error.

Together, work management systems and wireless sensors not only liberate staff from paper-based checks, they provide ‘peace of mind’ to the business that key controls and risk areas are being properly managed. As a result, more businesses are adopting these new technologies. By 2020, it’s reasonable to expect that digital food safety management systems will be standard in the majority of professional kitchens, regardless of business size.

The main takeaway from this is that it will be the expectation that everything is monitored, across multiple sites, from one location. Using technology and seeing data from a real-time feed of what’s happening at key food safety hotspots. You gather more data than ever before, with less effort than ever before, avoiding wasted time checking compliance data manually and unnecessarily. That spells big time and cost savings for any single-site business. And for multi-site businesses, the potential time-savings are phenomenal.