Food Industry Gets Regulatory Compliance-as-a-Service

December 5, 2017 Patrick Mannion

Restaurants, distributors, and the rest of the food service industry face major challenges meeting safety regulations. Regulations are constantly changing, tracking and meeting compliance mandates is costly, and manual monitoring regimens are unreliable.

Failure to comply risks fines, or worse. If customers fall ill, the resulting brand damage can lead to lost revenue or even business failure.

The heavy burden of compliance—along with the cost of failures—takes a heavy toll. The Competitive Enterprise Institute estimates the economic impact at $1.8 trillion annually.

At the heart of the problem is reliance on manual monitoring, which is labor intensive, subject to error, and completely lacking in visibility. What’s needed instead is an automated system with guaranteed performance and an indemnification process to give companies peace of mind.

Manual Monitoring Is Untenable

To show the nature of the problem, consider a typical restaurant, which may have a dozen or more refrigerators. To ensure compliance with federal food safety regulations, the temperature on each fridge is supposed to be documented every hour by someone on staff.

“Someone needs to stop what they are doing every hour and go around and manually note the temperature,” explained Aron Bowman, COO at compliance technology specialist ELM. This labor costs thousands of dollars annually, and it distracts staff from performing other valuable work.

To make sure the refrigerator stays in range, the temperature is often set lower than necessary. This can add thousands of dollars to a restaurant’s annual energy costs. Combine this with the labor costs and multiply across hundreds of locations, and the inefficiencies rise to millions of dollars annually.

But the real problem is risk. A refrigerator failure can ruin expensive inventory, force product recalls, or even trigger regulatory actions.

Unnoticed failures are even worse. “If something happens at night, or over the weekend, food could be spoiling for days and go unnoticed on Monday morning if the system kicked back in on Sunday night,” Bowman noted. If customers get sick from spoiled goods, the hit to a company’s reputation can be devastating.

Automation Solution Combines Compliance Expertise With IoT

To address the problems, some companies have offered automatic temperature monitoring and data storage and analysis solutions. Some even have remote access, alerts, and a remote portal.

ELM takes things a step further. The company used its expertise in legal, insurance, and compliance issues to create ELM FieldSight, a compliance-as-a-service (CaaS) solution. This unique approach combines IoT technology with indemnification and liability insurance against damages caused by solution failure.

FieldSight is an end-to-end solution that encompasses sensors, a local IoT gateway, remote data storage, and a cloud-based mobile portal (Figure 1). FieldSight can operate as a stand-alone solution, or it can integrate with building automation and enterprise IT systems.

Figure 1. FieldSight is a sensor-to-cloud solution. (Image source: ELM)

FieldSight automatically gathers temperature and other data, and compares the findings to mandated requirements. It not only recognizes out-of-compliance situations but also sends alerts to a predetermined list of responders.

Thanks to automation, FieldSight can take measurements every 15 minutes, instead of every hour, and upload the data to the cloud to implement an automated data historian while providing data to a remote dashboard. “If we see a fridge out of compliance, we send out notifications right away, before the food temperature gets out of specification,” said Bowman.

As part of its service, ELM constantly tracks food safety mandates from bodies such as the FDA, and remotely pushes updates to FieldSight deployments accordingly. ELM is so confident in its system that it differentiates itself from other CaaS providers by including a built-in indemnification and liability insurance against damages caused by solution failure, including fines and penalties.

“We brought in technology to automate and really reduce the cost of keeping a customer in compliance,” said Bowman, “and doing it in real time makes it so much better.” By gathering the data, filtering, and storing it for analysis, “we’ve moved from being a reactive to a proactive service,” he added.

FieldSight uses a ruggedized Dell Edge Gateway. Bowman said the Intel Atom® Processor-based gateways were chosen because they provide scalability for future upgrades. For example, the gateways can track not only temperature but other refrigerator parameters such as humidity and lighting. They could predict compressor maintenance needs and avoid unplanned downtime. They could even connect to unrelated building automation systems, tracking factors such as foot traffic.

“It’s a great baseline model so we don’t have to worry about the hardware,” said Bowman. “Coming from Intel and Dell, it’s rock solid, with lots of room to expand.”

Rapid Deployment and Proven Results

Depending on the site and the number of nodes, FieldSight can be deployed within two to eight weeks. Companies can work directly with ELM, or through system integrators such as Arrow Electronics. In either case, companies can take advantage of Dell Financing to cover the initial installation on a payment plan.

In one example, a major cafeteria management customer deployed FieldSight to manage its refrigeration units and act as an IoT platform for future needs. According to Bowman, the customer chose FieldSight because the company needed a flexible solution that could scale across device types and locations, and could reduce audits and losses from spoilage.

The initial deployment comprised 25 sensors monitoring temperature, humidity, power, and light in the refrigeration units. The business impacts included:

  • Savings of $8,000+ per location over 3 years
  • Improved employee and patron safety while building brand trust
  • Reduced waste with quality processes
  • Positive environmental impacts through energy efficiency

CaaS With Indemnity is Just the Start

Complying with the many and always-changing regulations around food safety is challenging and expensive. But by combining legal, insurance, and compliance expertise with IoT technology, ELM FieldSight CaaS greatly simplifies compliance, reduces risk, lowers cost, and increases efficiency, with the opportunity to add more value at a later date.

About the Author

Patrick Mannion

Patrick Mannion is a independent content developer and consultant who has been analyzing developments in technology for more than 25 years. Formerly Brand Director for EETimes, EDN, Embedded, Planet Analog, and Embedded.com, now part of AspenCore, he has also been developing and executing community-oriented online- and events-based engineer-to-engineer learning platforms. His focus is on connecting engineers to find novel design solutions and focused skills acquisition in the areas of Embedded, IoT, Test and Measurement, RF/Wireless, and Analog & Mixed-Signal Design.

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