From voluntary standards such as ISO 22000 to mandatory regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), there’s no escaping food safety laws and guidelines. At the same time, today’s demanding consumer wants proof that the foods they purchase are free of pathogens. Therefore, transparency and traceability are a must for the food industry.
Rules and regulations are not necessarily a burden. They can present opportunities to help establish clear benchmarks for accountability that promote better safety, not to mention higher quality. And one of the best ways to do that is to collect the right data—and the right amount of data—at every critical point in your operation.
The Importance of Collecting Food Safety Data
Restaurants and food service companies can actually make rules work in their favor if they take a systematic, rather than haphazard, approach to data collection. The most successful organizations gain greater insight by analyzing the data they capture necessary for regulatory reporting and control over their food products.
Collecting the relevant data pertaining to each of your operation’s procedures can help you keep your eye on the safety of your food, your equipment, and your environment—not just at a moment of crisis—but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In this way, you can measure and predict trends so that real incidents will stand out from the routine, and you can properly assess how to handle them.
What Is Good Data Collection?
“Good” data collection should focus on three areas of compliance:
The main challenge of implementing controls over these areas is dealing with the huge volume of data they produce. For instance, if you currently administer a comprehensive HACCP program, you’re aware that it can generate thousands of data points each day. That’s great in theory, but in practice, don’t just collect data for the sake of it. Choose what’s necessary, relevant, and valuable for an analysis of the specific incident or issue at hand. Also, don’t forget to monitor temperatures at risk for excursions: for instance, fridges, freezers, lowboys, walk-ins, and make-lines.
Avoid Data Fatigue
The complexity, volume, and speed of data collection can be overwhelming. You can hone down the data by setting your alerts based, first, on regulation, and second, on your own specific production and distribution process. Set the chain of command so that only staff responsible for safety at each stage of your operation are actually responding to real emergencies. We all know the story about the boy who cried wolf. It’s easy to become desensitized to alerts—or even ignore them—if they’re not truly crises in need of correction. This way if a real incident occurs, it won’t be overlooked!
Use the Data!
Data should be valued as a benefit, rather than tolerated as a burden. Not only does data analysis ensure compliance, even more importantly, it lets you know that something may be wrong that could damage your brand or hurt your customers.
If you currently collect data with a manual system-- pens, paper, spreadsheets, and filing cabinets—then most likely it feels like a burden. Worse, with a manual process, things fall through the cracks. You don’t really see trends soon enough, and you wind up being reactive rather than proactive. With automated data collection, you get both a strong database stored in the cloud and statistical software that provides streamlined reports.
In short, an automated data collection system can give the right data to the right person at the right time—and make acting upon genuine safety incidents efficient and effective.
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