Food safety concerns continue to create panic — a fact that is quite evident with the myriad of class-action lawsuits filed against leading food brands. Although the state governments and the various authorities lay down extensive standards for the food and restaurant industry to follow, the nature of this business creates roadblocks.
Nonetheless, with the increasing awareness about foodborne diseases, it is inevitable for businesses to follow the highest safety standards. This largely depends on adopting the right cooking and storage techniques, with the use of sophisticated tools like digital food thermometers.
According to statistics, every year over 48 million Americans suffer from foodborne diseases. Most of these occur due to bad hygiene and negligence of the staff. As a result, there are at least 128,000 hospitalizations, which result in a disturbing 3,000 deaths approximately on an annual basis.
Some of the most common pathogens that cause food-borne diseases include Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E.coli. One can easily minimize or even eliminate these pathogens entirely, by adequately cooking the food. Now the next big question that arises is, what actually defines “adequate?”
This is exactly what Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) defines by pinpointing critical limits. But before we get there, we need to understand why these food safety concerns exist and then move on to how it can be tackled.
To begin, most restaurants fail to make use of scientific tools to inspect the food, before it is served to the customer. In fact, most restaurants rely solely upon the Chef’s ability to conclude the food’s status based on its color, fragrance or appearance. As those traits can be deceptive, there is a sheer need for a more accurate tool like a digital food thermometer.
Also, conforming to the HACCP standards can help devise appropriate corrective measures to curb this issue.
With at least a third of the nation’s population eating out on any given day, the US food and restaurant industry caters to over a hundred million Americans, on a daily basis.
That makes it impossible for any small or mid-sized restaurant’s management team to keep track of every order.
Nonetheless, it is essential considering the rise in litigation, so we have a viable solution to help restaurant owners keep track of HACCP compliance.
Before we get there, let us first discuss what HACCP is all about and the benefits of abiding by the management system.
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HACCP is a quality assurance protocol that aims at achieving universal standards that oversee safe handling, preparation, and serving of food to consumers, which is safe for human consumption.
With the increase in food-borne illnesses, consumers have begun relying on HACCP to ensure quality assurance when it comes to the food they are being served. Conforming to the HACCP standards not only puts the customers at ease but also helps businesses gain an edge over their competitors.
HACCP standards are a set of principles laid down by food scientists, which help regulate food processes. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mandatorily require those involved in the processing and distribution of meats and juices, to comply with the HACCP standards.
These standards focus more on monitoring, evaluation and risk assessment of the various food processes. Once a potential hazard is identified, the HACCP plan aims at eliminating it. As the core management may not be able to evaluate the conformity of every food item with the HACCP plan, a tracker becomes essential.
HACCP implementation begins with a sound HACCP plan, which involves several principles, all of which must be covered in the HACCP Plan.
The first principle requires conducting Hazard Analysis for each and every ingredient, with regards to the various processes that the food ingredient undergoes. In this step, the goal is to figure out the potential health risks associated with each ingredient. The risks are assessed in detail, by evaluating each ingredient at different stages.
Next, the critical control points (CCPs) are identified for each ingredient and the critical limits are set. The critical limits are the maximum and minimum, which are set for each CCP. The critical limit could be a certain temperature range or a particular texture. These are identified for each CCP to ensure that the food remains safe for consumption and that the possibilities of health hazards are eliminated.
For example, undercooked meats can cause Campylobacter, a major food-borne health concern. This is where digital food thermometers come in and help mitigate that risk.
The remaining principles are remedial in nature and involve establishing monitoring procedures, as well as pre-defining corrective actions.
This entire process is then confirmed by a designated person, often the chef, who is also responsible for record-keeping and due diligence. He/she verifies that all the critical limits are adhered to and records it. This record includes time logs, temperature logs, and checklists of critical limits along with any corrective actions that may have been taken.
In the unfortunate event that there is a legal action taken against the restaurant, these logs serve as evidence, to prove that the restaurant had guarded reasonable caution.
Wireless digital food thermometers come with a transmitter, thermometer, and a probe that lets you check the precise temperature. Although most digital food thermometers make use of food-grade stainless steel probes, it is essential to confirm this. Also, it is recommended that restaurants choose digital food thermometers that are either rotatable or in wire form. That lets the Chef examine meats and liquids in detail.
Before choosing a digital food thermometer, restaurant owners must ensure that it is a pro-grade device. Also, its response time must be minimal as it is going to be used by professional chefs, who would be handling several orders simultaneously.
To make this entire process more convenient, you can make use of applications like Zip HACCP. This application lets you capture data through the digital food thermometer’s probe and confirm its compliance with your HACCP plan.
Chefs and cooks across the globe use a variety of techniques to verify whether the food is adequately cooked. This includes checking the color or inspecting the food by touching it, however, none of these methods are backed by science, compromising accuracy.
For a more scientific assessment, one must make use of a digital food thermometer to confirm that the food is indeed adequately cooked. That helps eliminate the risks associated with undercooked or overcooked food.
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As the food industry is plagued by meats that contain salmonella and E.Coli, it becomes critical to keep track of the temperature at various stages.
As cooking and storage are critical CCPs in the food and restaurant industry, it is important to measure temperatures in a more scientific manner. So the task is to confirm that the meats and other ingredients are processed in the right manner and that none of those processes have caused bacterial or microbial growth.
This constant need to examine that the stored foods adhere to a certain HACCP Plan helps eliminate the possibility of contamination.
Since cooling and heating at varying temperatures can bring about different results, digital food thermometers can help maintain the desired consistency. In fact, you can sync it with apps like Zip HACCP and customize the critical limits and check them against the temperatures that the probe detects.
By incorporating HACCP plans, restaurants can mitigate the potential risk of litigation, which has in the past resulted in destroying several businesses.
This is probably the reason why larger food chains have voluntarily adopted the HACCP food and safety standards.
Although the HACCP standards were originally designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for space missions, they now serve an entirely different purpose. Back then, it was designed by food scientists to address the food safety requirements of astronauts. However, subsequently, this was adopted as a model by large food chains to later adopt.
A point to note is that the HACCP guidelines can be adopted at all levels, but before a restaurant can claim to be HACCP compliant, it must comply with a very specific set of guidelines.
This includes inspection by a third non-biased party, which explains why managing the entire process can be tedious and time-consuming. After all, the stringent guidelines need to be followed and eventually recorded.
The food and restaurant industry employs close to 10 percent of the nation’s employable population, which sums up to over 15 million employees. That makes it one of the largest and busiest sectors.
However, with the high attrition rate, there is a constant shortage of employees, and the ones available have little time to comply with HACCP’s extensive framework. So, Businesses need to figure out innovative solutions to deal with that.
With the use of technology, even small and mid-sized restaurants can easily implement HACCP plans. With sophisticated applications, like Zip HACCP, one can easily create a checklist and share it with those working from various business locations.
This includes incorporating various principles and ensuring its effectiveness. After all, a minor error in a restaurant’s supply chain process could lead to a series of litigations and even closure.
So, if you are a small or mid-sized business struggling to keep up with the HACCP norms, then it is recommended that you consider incorporating a smart tracking application.
Businesses can easily integrate it with a digital food thermometer, which makes it easier to manage temperature logs. These records can then be pulled out on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, which makes the entire process of record-keeping convenient.