The 5 disadvantages of paper checklists for food safety
The potential cost of food safety breaches to restaurants, cafes and pubs is enormous. Not only do they face prosecution if standards are not met, but the reputational damage can mean that even when any problems are solved, customers won’t return, hitting revenues and putting the entire future of the business at risk. For larger restaurant groups outbreaks of food poisoning caused by poor safety can cause share prices to plunge, never to recover.
Strong food safety management systems are therefore essential to the industry, with processes and procedures documented, monitored and recorded to provide evidence of compliance with the highest standards. However most of these rely on paper based checklists, which brings five major issues:
1. They don’t help staff do their jobs
Paper-based checklists simply list what needs to be done, such as clean the surfaces or check the temperature in the freezer, and when it has to be completed. They don’t guide staff in how they should be doing it or what to do if readings are out of range. This means that best practice is not enforced, and any issues may not be picked up until days or weeks later, if at all.
2. They hit productivity
Finding and filling in a paper checklist, takes time and effort, which reduces productivity in a busy kitchen. Inspecting and analysing 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 ready for inspections, adding to the overhead. As well as the time and lost productivity involved in paper-based checklists, records all need to be stored, adding further to costs.
3. They cannot be trusted
Put simply, there is no record of when a checklist was filled in – or by whom. In a busy kitchen, non-urgent tasks may be forgotten or left until later, and paperwork can be doctored to cover up slips in food safety management processes. Occasionally records are not even completed until just before the environmental health inspector calls – hardly enforcing best practice.
4. They don’t give a real-time picture
On paper, there is nothing to remind staff on when they should perform a check, or to alert managers that a vital inspection has not been carried out. If there is a problem managers may not know until much later, leading to issues worsening in the interim.
5. Valuable data is left unused
Paper-based information is difficult to compare and analyse, meaning that managers have no real-time view 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.
The answer is to digitise these paper-based checklists and use technology to make the whole food safety management process simpler, more efficient and linked more closely to the needs of the business. By using a combination of handheld devices, 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, guiding staff through the process of taking a measurement, and most importantly what steps 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. It is time to change this, as extending digitisation to food safety checklists brings major benefits and increased peace of mind across the food industry.
Food safety management is growing in complexity, but new technology is helping to ease the burden on food business whilst also ensuring high standards.
Removing inefficient pen and paper checks can save businesses both time and money whilst 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.