The 5 disadvantages of paper food safety checklists
For businesses across the US, it is essential to develop, implement and maintain a good record of food safety checklists and ensure best practices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that about 48 million people in the United States become sick as a result of foodborne disease each year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die as a result of these and much of the responsibility to ensure such situation do not occur, lie with food service establishments.
The potential cost of failing to comply with food safety management procedures to restaurants, cafes and pubs is enormous. Food service establishments could face prosecution in the form of heavy fines, closures and even imprisonment if standards are not met. As a result, even after these issues are fixed, some customers won’t return, and failure to achieve and retain high standards can put the future of the entire business at risk. For larger fast-casual establishment, a single food poisoning outbreak could potentially cost between $6,330 to $2.1 million depending on how severe the outbreak is, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Having a strong food safety management system in place is therefore required by law in the food service industry, with processes and procedures documented, monitored and recorded to provide evidence of compliance with the highest standards. But the question is why does food operators find it so hard enforcing strict food safety protocols? The answer to this could be their reliance on paper checklists. Paper checklists have been around for quite some time and it is of no surprise that most fast-casual establishments still rely on paper checklists in their day to day management but fail to see the disadvantages that come with it. It is however becoming increasingly popular for businesses to switch to working digitally, and the food service industry is no exception in following the trend when it comes to managing food hygiene and health and safety in their day to day restaurant operations, which is why fast-casual establishments are looking for ways to innovate. We highlighted the top 5 disadvantages of paper checklists for food safety:
1.Paper food safety checklists fail to help staffs do their jobs
Paper-based checklists simply list the basics of what needs to be done, such as cleaning the surfaces, checking the temperatures in the freezers etc., and when it has to be completed. This method fails to guide staffs on how these checks need to be done and what corrective measures need to be taken in case there are any problems, such as freezer temperatures falling out of range. This means that best practices are not enforced, and any issues may not be picked up until days or weeks later, if at all.
2.Productivity is affected with paper checklists
It takes a lot of time and effort finding and filling in paper checklists, which reduces productivity and how staffs perform in a busy kitchen. Inspecting and analyzing completed checklists takes valuable management time, up to 1-2 hours a day in a typical small catering business. Records then need to be prepared and ready for inspections, adding to the overhead. Not only will productivity be affected, further costs might be incurred such as storage costs for the paper-based checklists.
3.Paper food safety checklists can be tampered with
In a busy kitchen, it can be quite challenging to make sure staffs complete the crucial compliance tasks on schedule and with paper-based checklists, staffs can sometimes forget to perform a specific check and later take corrective measures as soon as they remember by filling the records the next day, thereby putting the entire business at risk of compliance issues. Occasionally records are not even completed until just before the environmental health inspector calls in– hardly enforcing best practice.
4.No tracking of action management
With paper checklists, there is no possibility of reminding staffs on any tasks that are due to be completed and most times, staffs can get caught up carrying out other tasks and forget to carry out that “one” task which could expose the business to even greater risks, nor alert managers that a vital inspection has not been carried out. Should this be the case, managers may not be aware until much later as they would normally expect the staff in charge to stay on top of things, hence exposing the business to bigger compliance issues.
5.Unable to drill-down and analyze data
With Paper-based information, it is difficult to drill-down and analyze data, meaning that managers have no real-time visibility of how the business is performing. They can’t immediately spot trends, such a dip in performance of a team, or even something as simple as the bins not being put out until much later. This is particularly an issue for larger chains with multiple branches – regional managers have no way of knowing what is happening on the ground, in real-time and the use of data can help organizations to create new growth opportunities.
The answer is to innovate and implement a Digital Food Safety Management System and embrace the technology that will make the whole food hygiene and health & safety management process simpler, more efficient and linked more closely to the needs of the business. By using a combination of handheld devices, temperature sensors and temperature probes, all readings can be automatically timestamped so you can see when they were taken, and by whom. More importantly, digital checklists can be made interactive by guiding staff through the process of taking a measurement, and most importantly what corrective actions to take if an issue arises. This ensures compliance and provides businesses with an automatic set of digital records that can be easily shared with environmental health officers. As all this data is collected and shared in real-time, issues are spotted early and can be dealt with before they potentially escalate into something worse.
Over the past decade, restaurants have invested heavily in technology to enhance the dining experience, from online booking to mobile apps. Yet technology seems to stop at the kitchen door and now it is time to change this because extending digitization to food safety checklists brings major benefits and increased peace of mind across the food industry.
Download our white paper: The changing face of food safety management
Food safety management is growing in complexity, but new technology is helping to ease the burden on food business while also ensuring high standards.
Removing inefficient pen and paper checks can save businesses both time and money while guaranteeing accurate data. It also offers the advantage of being able to monitor 24/7, so there are no gaps in reporting and even if an issue occurs out of hours then it will be flagged up and can be resolved.
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