How Wireless IoT Sensors Can Automate Food Service HACCP Compliance

How Wireless IoT Sensors Can Automate Food Service HACCP Compliance

No restaurant wants to make the news for making customers sick, but 84% of the restaurants we’ve consulted with had critical issues with safe holding temperatures in their walk-in coolers. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) best practices can help.

Most establishments try to maintain safe conditions, but it’s not easy to follow HACCP when you’re relying on busy restaurant workers to monitor temperatures and humidity. We offer a better way for restaurants to keep their food and their customers safe: supporting HACCP principles with wireless IoT network so managers can track conditions in real time and workers can focus on their primary tasks.

What’s HACCP?

HACCP is the federal government’s recommended management system for food safety for manufacturers, restaurants, food retailers and other parties in the farm-to-end-user chain. The point of HACCP is to standardize the identification and control of potential foodborne hazards like bacterial and chemical contamination by establishing and monitoring safe ranges for temperature, humidity and other factors at each stage of the product’s journey to the consumer. HACCP implementation requires regular monitoring of environmental conditions, data collection and record-keeping.

What exactly is a wireless IoT network?

The IoT (internet of things) is made up of items that aren’t computers but are connected to the internet. For example, security cameras that stream video to monitoring centers, smart home thermostats, and commercial wireless temperature and humidity sensors are all part of the IoT.

A wireless IoT network is a local group of sensors that are connected securely via wireless signals such as  Bluetooth to a central data-collection device, called a bridge. The bridge transmits the data securely to the cloud and displays real-time data from all the sensors and provides analysis so plant or restaurant managers can see real-time operating conditions as well as trends.

How wireless IoT sensors can support HACCP

The FDA outlines seven HACCP principles for food manufacturers and food service providers to follow:

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis.
  2. Determine the critical control points (CCPs).
  3. Establish critical limits.
  4. Establish monitoring procedures.
  5. Establish corrective actions.
  6. Establish verification procedures.
  7. Establish record-keeping and documentation procedures.

For restaurants and other food service businesses, improper holding temperature is a common safety and compliance challenge, largely due to the difficulty of maintaining stable walk-in cooler temperatures as employees move in and out of the space. But getting holding temperature right is critical, because inadequate temperature control is one of the top five contributors to foodborne illnesses. An outbreak of food poisoning among customers can wreck an establishment’s reputation and lead to financial liability and regulatory penalties.

Systems that make it easier to maintain safe holding temperatures can reduce these risks. Once a facility has conducted its hazard analysis and determined its critical control points, a network of wireless IoT sensors can enable and automate the remaining five practices on the HACCP to-do list. Here’s how.

Wireless monitoring networks can help maintain critical limits

The FDA requires a consistent storage temperature of 41° F or below for perishable foods. In an ideal world, walk-in coolers would be able to stay in that safe range. However, our observations in the field revealed that not only did cooler temperatures in many restaurants sometimes spike to unsafe levels during working hours, they sometimes rose after hours, too.

When managers don’t know about temperature fluctuations, they unwittingly put customers at risk. And when managers rely on busy staffers to check temperatures, monitoring and recordkeeping can be inconsistent and even inaccurate.

A safer and more efficient solution is to install a wireless temperature, humidity and dew point sensor in the cooler. For harder to reach areas, small remote temperature monitoring sensors are another option that can provide full coverage of the food storage area. After installing these sensors and a bridge to record the data they send, managers can use the system’s digital dashboard to set thresholds for safety and alerts.

For example, a restaurant might set an upper threshold of 41° F for the sensors in its walk-in cooler. Then, the manager can decide whether to receive real-time alerts when one or more of the sensors’ readouts exceeds that limit—and decide whether to get those alerts via SMS, email or a phone call.

Wireless IoT sensors can automate monitoring procedures

With wireless temperature sensors in place, restaurant staffers no longer need to pull their focus away from their primary tasks to check thermostats and record the results. All the data the sensors collect is sent wirelessly to the system bridge, where it’s stored, analyzed and presented in easy-to-check visual formats.

For example, here’s a Swift Sensors dashboard readout from a prep area over a four-hour period.
These charts show managers at a glance when areas are out of temperature compliance, by how much and for how long.

A remote temperature monitoring system can enable timely corrective actions

By setting up threshold alerts, managers can deal right away with acute problems—like a cooler door that’s been left open.

Over time, the data can also help managers identify and address chronic temperature control problems that may be related to poor equipment performance. For example, a cooler that consistently goes out of range on hot, humid nights may need repair or replacement.

Real-time sensor data allows for real-time verification procedures

Coolers aren’t the only application for wireless temperature sensors in kitchens and food production areas. With a sensor at each critical control point in the workspace, managers can see real-time conditions across the entire operation from their desktop, tablet or phone without having to make the rounds and check each cooler and station.

Wireless sensor data is stored for accurate, ready-to-access documentation.

With a wireless sensor network, recordkeeping is fully automated and historical data is easy to access.

This not only saves time; it can help demonstrate compliance during safety inspections and internal reviews.

It doesn’t take long to set up this kind of automated sensor network, which is an important consideration in busy commercial kitchens. Wireless IoT sensors can be deployed in a matter of minutes, without any need for technicians to run cable or interfere with back of the house operations.

As soon as the sensors are in place and connected to the bridge, your facility can follow HACCP best practices more closely, more comprehensively and automatically.

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