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October 4, 2018

Digital Checklists: Why It’s Time to Upgrade from Paper Processes

Written by SmartSense | Food Safety

Before the advent of digital technologies, monitoring temperature to ensure food safety was limited to manual inspections using paper checklists. Surprisingly, analog systems continue to persist within the food services industry. Perhaps the biggest advantage of a manual method is its cheaper cost to implement.


But given the new strict standards of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), FDA requirements for electronic record-keeping, and the increasing complexity of food processing technologies, the paper mindset is quickly becoming out-of-date. In fact, the inefficiencies, inaccuracies, spotty records, and lack of real-time data typical of manual inspections and paper checklists may end up, in the long run, far costlier in terms of foodborne illness risks.


How do you determine the financial impact of a foodborne illness outbreak?  Watch our webinar to find out how a food safety incident can significantly  impact brand value.


Paper vs. Digital Checklists 

Most obviously, paper takes up space... many file cabinets worth of space that your administrative offices may not have. Paper also needs to be filed by hand. It’s prone to wear and tear, and in a worst-case scenario, it can literally go up in flames. Not only is paper a bulky method for storing records, it’s also more likely to get lost. Lose your paper files, and you have nothing to prove that your operations are in compliance.


With digital checklists and automated data logging, you save space by storing your records in the cloud. Unlike paper, which can only record numbers and letters, a digital checklist can also store photos and video, which may be essential if you need visual documentation. In addition, it’s much easier to organize, sort, and access digital records. In short, digital checklists make compliance easier and inspections faster than using paper methods.


Intermittent vs. Continuous, Real-Time Monitoring

A manual check of temperature can only occur intermittently. That may work if there’s always manpower available to take the measurements. But what happens overnight if there’s a power outage? Or if a shift is understaffed and employees get too busy to remember to perform a scheduled inspection?


Beyond procedural failures, temperatures routinely fluctuate throughout the day as staff open doors to walk-in refrigerator and freezer units. And during transportation, you can’t be sure that food products maintain the same temperature recorded at the start and end of a shipment. Manual inspections can easily overlook these variations, which of course can increase the risk of contamination.


With digital monitoring, temperatures can be recorded 24/7 at any interval. If a dangerous excursion outside of a safe zone occurs, the automated system sends real-time alerts so that management can control the problem as quickly as possible.


Time-Consuming vs. Efficient Inspections

In a busy food service environment, managers and employees must take scheduled time out to perform manual inspections and record temperatures on paper checklists. Managers are burdened with training staff in HACCP food safety procedures and overseeing the scheduling and implementation of daily logs to ensure their accuracy and compliance. When coupled with employee turnover, that’s a major time commitment. Employees tasked with checking temperature gauges manually may feel rushed to return to their other duties. But hurrying through an inspection risks misreading and misreporting the figures.


With digital monitoring, there are no interruptions, no clerical glitches, no human errors. Managers can feel confident that real-time data is being continuously delivered directly to a tablet, phone, or laptop. Less time wasted. Less worry expended.


Spot vs. Centralized Recordkeeping

A small mom and pop outfit can stay on top of temperature readings with a paper system. But when you manage a national chain with multiple locations, spot checks are just that – spotty. In years past, if management requested a reading from a remote site, they would have to call the location (which may be in a different time zone), ask an employee to check one or more temperature gauges, then wait for the results once the inspection was conducted. Then using an analog system, management would gather disparate readings from each location, consolidate the reports, input the data into a central processing system, and then run an analysis – a tedious cycle that never ends.


Not anymore. With the introduction of digital monitoring systems, wireless devices and cloud-based storage centralize the process for you – automatically – and provides instant access to real-time measurements anywhere in the world, night or day.


Isn’t It Time for an Update?

SmartSense's digital checklists replaces paper checklists with an intuitive task management system that provides visibility across all your sites and maintains a 10-year historical data log.


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