All reputable companies are keen to comply with modern food safety standards and legislation. But in a global economy, the list of companies involved in the food supply chain is a lengthy one. Food producers, processors and retailers are involved in a multitude of partnerships with both consumers and each other, making accurate and reliable auditing of food safety even more of a priority.
European HACCP legislation is a good case in point; accurate temperature measurement is a strong feature in HACCP analysis, which makes food temperature critical at every stage of storage, preparation, processing and delivery. Accuracy and speed of results is essential, especially for chilled and reheated foods that are particularly susceptible to harmful bacteria.
Of course temperature must be controlled but that is only a beginning – it must also be monitored. Hence the emphasis on record-keeping, which must be up to date and verifiable. Handheld digital thermometers and fixed or portable data loggers have provided some excellent solutions for ensuring accurate and reliable measurements so far. But technological improvements in recording measurement results have, by comparison, lagged behind.
The vast majority of temperature measurements require handheld, portable sensing of food with the necessity for human interface. Throughout the food industry there is a persistent over-reliance on paper records, with the irony of high-accuracy digital measurements being transferred into written logbooks. Anyone acquainted with the sheer number and regularity of measurements required for a typical HACCP analysis knows how labour-intensive this can be. Moreover, apart from the time-expense, double-handling of data is notoriously vulnerable to human error.
The relatively recent development of complex wireless monitoring systems does offer a more sophisticated method of recording temperature but this is only when fixed sensors in place – and comes at a considerable cost. Also, Bluetooth technology has provided a partial answer to paperless portable logging by enabling temperature logs to be downloaded to PCs and PDAs.
And yet in both these developments, there has been a crucial missing link – how to record what has been measured. Until now, a high quality, accurate thermometer has been able to record the temperature, time and date of each individual measurement but not what it has actually measured – whether that is an item of food or an appliance. A quality control PDA system can provide you with a convenient, interrogative database of products or appliances – but, put simply, how can these two technologies talk to each other?
Bluetooth meets barcode
UK temperature specialists, TM Electronics have identified a unique solution, with the design and manufacture of the new MM7000 - a Bluetooth handheld thermometer with integral Barcode Reader. TME’s design team has harnessed both Bluetooth and barcode technologies in one easy-to-use device, delivering a portable handheld logging capability: to scan and record not only temperature, time and date but also the unique identity of any item scanned.
Thanks to the universal nature of barcodes, the MM7000 is suitable for monitoring a wide range of food products or appliances. Companies can use existing manufacturers’ barcodes already displayed or easily create and assign new barcodes to any food product, production menu or appliance. Its capacity is enviable, with storage of up to 1,000 readings which can then be downloaded to PC, mobile phone or PDA.
Example Recording of food temperature in a chilled or freezer cabinet
Step 1 Assign unique barcode to each probe by aisle and cabinet
Step 2 Position probe in each chill or freezer cabinet
Step 3 Plug in MM7000 to scan each cabinet temperature
Step 4 Download measurements
As far as quality is concerned, there are no compromises to make – the MM7000 design builds on the fast-response thermocouple technology already utilised by TME’s established MM2000 waterproof thermometer series. It is compatible with all conventional plug-in probes - like the company’s extensive range of type T thermocouples accurate to 0.5°C (recommended by food safety agencies due to their enhanced accuracy and time-response).
Open source software
Finally, it is the sheer compatibility of the system which can transform this extraordinary handheld thermometer into a virtual HACCP logbook – literally in the palm of your hand. The MM7000 is supplied with free open source software which downloads all the data it has recorded, ‘translating’ each barcode into readable text. The information retrieved is in a csv (comma separated values) file format which can be imported into any company’s own database or a spreadsheet as universal as excel.
The full potential of this innovation for transforming due diligence in the food industry can be most fully understood, when you extrapolate the above example across multiple sites. Imagine the capability to interrogate and analyse food temperature not just at one location but globally - enabling organisations to record and track the temperature of individual food items, to be alerted to equipment break-downs, and to monitor the temperature of produce delivered by or to any of its food chain partners. No complex wireless monitoring systems to install – no expensive software – just a single handheld device which is affordable, compatible and easy to use.
Danielle Sensier is Marketing Director of TM Electronics (TME) Tel+44 (0)1903 00651 firstname.lastname@example.org