Whether you’re a farmer, a processor, a distributor, or a retailer, food safety is more than a legal requirement, it can mean the life and death of your business. Many businesses have closed their doors or been forced into bankruptcy due to fallout from a food illness outbreak.
Maintaining food safety is easier, more accurate and more efficient today thanks to data loggers and software that analyzes information and delivers warnings.
In this blog, we’ll look at what data loggers are and offer a few examples of how data loggers help keep food safe.
What’s a Data Logger?
A data logger is a small electronic device that monitors and reports environmental conditions.
In its simplest form, a data logger will monitor a single environmental factor. For example, you might have data loggers on the lower level of buildings that sense water on the floor.
In other cases, like food production and storage spaces, a single data logger might monitor many distinct elements, such as light, temperature, humidity, moisture, drops, electric shock, and other factors.
A data logger monitors conditions and reports that information to a main computer program. That program will analyze the data and notify the appropriate persons to fix any issues or concerns. Dickson explains more on how data loggers work in this guide.
Here, we’ll look at a couple of major places where data loggers are used, how they’re used, and how they protect food.
Why use data loggers?
Data loggers take the place of humans in some cases and deliver more information faster and more efficiently than would be possible with manual recording.
For example, in the past, each shift in a food storage warehouse had to monitor the storage area temperatures, write them down in a log book, and notify someone if there was a problem. If someone missed a shift, there was the possibility that the food got too warm or too cold. If the team missed a few days of notes, everything in the space might need to be discarded because it couldn’t be proven that the food was safe.
Data loggers can be placed in those same spaces. Some are hard-wired and can stay in place for decades.
These small devices cut down on labor, reduce loss, and can help document and guarantee that all foods are safe.
In many food production facilities, temperature is the key. For example, in a frozen food processing plant, the entire processing area might be kept below freezing. Data loggers can monitor the space and ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise above predetermined limits.
In a bakery, the proofing room might need to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity. These conditions can also be monitored by data loggers.
The FDA provides many guides, like this one, that show the importance of temperature in food production.
In both of the cases mentioned, data loggers can be connected to a computer system that will change the environment as needed. For example, the data loggers might report that the temperature has risen a few degrees, so the computer turns on the cold units.
With temperature, one might think, “Well, that’s why we have a thermostat.” Your thermostat is a sensor, but it’s only one device in a single place. It doesn’t usually record information and doesn’t provide a complete picture of conditions in a space.
Using modern, portable data loggers, you can monitor temperature all over the production floor from floor to ceiling.
Data loggers can provide a 3D view of the temperatures in the room. From that information, hot and cold spots can be determined and trouble spots identified. From this information, adjustments to the layout of the storage space can be made to better protect the inventory.
This 3D temperature modeling is applicable to every stage of food production and service. It helps reduce waste, increases food safety, and increases profits.
Supply Chain & Distribution
The food supply chain in the past 70 years has grown exponentially. In the 1950s, it was rare to have food produced in China. Today, many foods are grown or produced there and delivered to the US. This is true of nations all over the world. The global food supply is truly global in many parts of the world.
Today, food travels around the world in days. Every step of that process requires monitoring of temperatures, humidity, and other factors throughout the transport and storage process.
Freezer and cold shipping container monitoring is obvious. Those spaces must be kept at a certain temperature or the products inside will quickly spoil. Less obvious are vegetables that don’t get refrigerated, but survive best at a specific temperature. For example, lettuce freezes at 31.8 degrees. If it’s shipped and held at 32 degrees, fresh lettuce can last 2 to three weeks. Even though 38 degrees is still in the acceptable range, it can decrease the storage life from a couple of weeks to a couple of days. At over 38 degrees, an entire truckload of lettuce will spoil within hours.
With something as sensitive as lettuce, data loggers can prevent hot spots even inside of refrigerated trucks or other transport vehicle by notifying the driver and the shipping company if there’s an issue.
If there i’s an outbreak from spoiled or contaminated lettuce, the shipper will have the empirical evidence that spoilage didn’t occur in their containers or distribution centers. This prevents massive lawsuits and expenses.
Data loggers should be in every space and vehicle on the supply chain and in the distribution areas.
Anyone who has ever worked as a cook or manager in the restaurant business knows that food safety is always a matter of temperature and time.
In the past, someone had to walk around a restaurant, opening drawers and coolers to record temperatures. Not only was it time-consuming, but the very act of opening the drawers to check a temperature warmed the food slightly. Today, data loggers are installed in the drawers or thrown into the food products contained therein to guarantee that temperatures meet recommended levels.
Most times, a temperature logger can be put into the boxes that foods arrive in to ensure that the box is always held at the right temperature.
The 3D temperature mapping technology can also apply to small restaurant walk-in coolers of massive hotel storage freezers.
Data Loggers Guarantee Safer Food
As our food supply chain lengthens and we continue to bring food from around the globe to our tables, data loggers will become increasingly vital. A data logger’s ability to never blink, never forget a shift, and instantly notify people nearby and on the other side of the planet when there’s a problem will help make our global food supply safer.
The global upside to this is that, with increased food production, we have plenty of food. Much of it spoils today. If we can keep the food safe, we can feed more people with the same production levels. Spoilage is destroying food that people could eat. Data loggers are one way to ensure that foods get into people instead of landfills.