How to replace a paper-based food safety system with digital system in your organisation
June 22nd , 2023 by Monika Australia & Asia Pacific
Despite advancements in technology over the last 20-30 years, most food and hospitality operations are still operating paper-based HACCP food safety systems. On the one hand, it can be hard to believe that such an archaic way of capturing and storing data is still in existence. But we all know how difficult it can be to challenge the status quo when you have a system that appears to do the job, and that everyone is familiar with.
Implementing organisation-wide technological change can be a daunting prospect. Stakeholders need to be consulted, funding needs to be secured, a vendor needs to be selected, and staff need to be trained and invested in the implementation process. So what are some things you can to do ease the transition from paper to digital? At Monika, we’ve helped hundreds of organisations successfully manage this change. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Observe & document the problems with your current system
To challenge the thinking that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, you need to have clear evidence that your current system isn’t working. Paper recording has many shortcomings, including human error, lack of staff accountability, lack of real-time data visibility, and labour-intensive processes. To demonstrate these shortcomings, conduct a review of your current system and document the following:
- Number of staff hours spent recording, filling and accessing/collating paper records for auditing purposes. This can add up to several hours per week, depending on the size of your operation.
- Examples of anomalies in your paper records such as incomplete, illegible or potentially inaccurate data. Though difficult to prove, at busy times staff can be tempted to fill out forms retrospectively. It can help to look for data anomalies such as exactly the same temperature being written down multiple times.
- Examples of staff ticking off written checklists when tasks haven’t been done. Start inspecting your operations to ensure your cleaning and hygiene schedule is being actioned and note any instances of tasks being recorded that were actually missed.
- Number of critical equipment failures where the stock has been lost. Document the total value of stock lost and how this could have been avoided with access to real-time data.
- Number of food safety claims and incidents – are they increasing over time? How easily were you able to prove your due diligence? With a more robust, digital system could these incidents have been avoided?
2. Secure approval & funding for a digital food safety system
Perhaps the most critical step to moving from paper to a digital food safety system is securing funding for your project. Consider the timing of this endeavour – it pays to lay the groundwork early by consulting internally and building support for your idea early in the financial year, before putting in your formal business case and budget bid.
Look at current funding allocations and see where savings could be made to cover the costs. Most importantly, document the long-term savings and expected return on investment for your project in your budget bid. For more guidance on this step, see our blog: Four tips for building a case for a digital food safety system in your organisation
3. Research & go to market with your requirements for a new digital food safety system
With funding secured, you can begin to research different digital food safety systems and find the right one for your organisation. Consult with staff about their needs and document your functional, technical and support requirements. For example:
- Software: what features do you need to automate and streamline your food safety processes? For example, live temperature monitoring, task sequences and checklists, task verification/approval steps, reporting dashboards, SMS/email alerts and escalations.
- Hardware: what kind of hardware do you need? Is it robust, reliable and easy to use? For example, core product wireless temperature sensors for hot and cold holding units, wireless temperature probes for goods inwards and food production, and mobile touchscreen devices for the staff.
- Connectivity: how will 24/7 network connectivity be assured? There are a few different options here, so talk to potential vendors about what they can offer.
- Data storage and security: where will your data be stored and how will data security be protected? Cloud-based solutions are flexible and cost-effective at managing and accessing your data, but they need strong security safeguards.
- Support: What level of training and ongoing support do you need from your vendor? We recommend a support package that includes annual system calibrations and ongoing software updates.
4. Develop a training and implementation plan
To ensure the long-term success of your new digital food safety system, you need a solid implementation plan. This should include, as a first step, clearly documenting all your food safety processes so that your vendor can configure them into your new system. It is not uncommon for organisations to operate without a written food safety plan. Now is the time to put that in place so that staff can get straight into using the system when staff are being trained.
Consider how you will transition from the old, paper-based system to the new – for example, will you phase your implementation by starting with a particular site or area first? Many of our clients have had great success by taking this approach. It allows your implementation team to quickly learn from mistakes before remaining areas jump on board, and gives you some early wins to share with the wider organisation. Finally, make sure you have champions across your organisation and a solid training plan in place so that you are empowering your staff and guiding them every step of the way.