Restaurants today are at even greater risk for foodborne outbreaks.

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 48 million people get sick due to a foodborne illness. Of those millions, approximately 128,000 have a case that is severe enough to land them in the hospital. Data over the years has repeatedly found that, consumers are twice as likely to get food poisoning from dining out compared to eating in at home. And while restaurants do everything they can to prevent illnesses, even a small outbreak can damage a restaurant’s reputation beyond repair.

Unfortunately, restaurants today are at even greater risk for foodborne outbreaks due to the widespread labor shortages affecting the industry, which make it exponentially more challenging to comply with food safety regulations. Noticing a malfunctioning cooler, maintaining accurate inventory, and ensuring staff members are completing safety tasks, are most impacted by these labor shortages. However, automation technologies have come a long way in recent years and, when used correctly, are able to help restaurants operate safely without a full employee roster.

Before the Cooler Breaks

Take for example a restaurant’s worst nightmare: a failing cooler. On average, kitchens experience refrigerator failures at least twice a year, with typical refrigeration inventory averaging more than $10,000. With fewer employees monitoring the coolers during a staffing shortage, finding a malfunctioning cooler before it becomes a total disaster becomes even harder. However, temperature tracking technology can monitor coolers and send digital alerts via text, email, push and even POS notification to designated users when it notices an issue. This gives operators the chance to fix the issue before it becomes a major problem. As a bonus: When the cooler is working properly, the temperature tracking technology can be recorded to create customized, on-demand reports for inspectors and other stakeholders.

Keeping Track of Inventory

Of course, even food that has been stored at the right temperature within a cooler will eventually spoil, making food inventory and rotation an imperative part of kitchen operations. Traditionally, this is a time- and labor-intensive process, and with restaurants experiencing limited labor resources, it could be frequently overlooked. However, digital ID solutions that use RFID technology allow staff members to see what inventory is currently stored in the coolers, upcoming expiration dates, and when inventory on certain items may be running low. Additionally, it can also help operators ensure that they accurately remove and destroy any recalled products.

Securing Food Safety via Checklists

Staffing deficiencies have also caused restaurants to hire anyone who is willing to come in and do the job, regardless of their experience level. This is leading to an influx of new hires that are completely unfamiliar with restaurant kitchen safety requirements. Usually, these new hires are given a paper checklist to guide their actions. However, paper checklists are notoriously unreliable. Digital checklists, however, can provide greater oversight to employee behavior, standardize tasks, provide instructions when a task is in progress, and can even allow the restaurant to collect evidence that a task was completed via a photo or text. This data can then be compiled into a dashboard that provides real-time visibility for managers, owners, and franchisees.

Adam Anderson, Vice President, Food, Avery Dennison Identification Solutions, is responsible for the creation and execution of the company’s global strategies for the Food segment which incorporate data-driven digital solutions encompassing hardware, software, and labels. Avery Dennison Corporation (NYSE: AVY) is a global materials science company specializing in the design and manufacture of a wide variety of labeling and functional materials. The company’s products and solutions are used in nearly every major industry.

Expert Takes, Feature, Food Safety