Quality Control and the Life of Data – Part 4: Predictive Alarms & Automated Data Collection

Steve Wise
By Steve Wise | August 12, 2020
Vice President of Statistical Methods

Fact checked by Stephen O'Reilly

In the previous Life of Data blog installments (Parts 1, 2, and 3), we focused on mining for the gold nuggets of information buried in data streams, we did a deep analytical dive into a stream of temperature data from a single walk-in cooler located in Miami, FL, and we pointed out how historical data can provide insights into the equipment’s overall capabilities—and also help to isolate root causes of systemic problems.
 
For this, Part 4 of our Life of Data blog series, we’re going to look at how early warning predictors can help your quick service restaurant (QSR).
Enact Keeps Food Safe
My late father-in-law was a grocery store manager for 30 years. I remember those random times when there would be an overnight cooler or freezer failure at his store, and he would bring home large amounts of ice cream, cheese, milk, TV dinners, and various other frozen snack foods.
 
The following is a quick rundown of how those days progressed: He would get an early morning call from one of his opening employees who reported the bad news and later that afternoon he would have sacks full of thawed and melted groceries that needed to be placed in a freezer or refrigerator. (I ate a lot of re-frozen ice cream in those days.)
 

Free Food – Sometimes Not So Great

Much of my father-in-law’s pay was based on the profitability of his store. I’m only speculating, but I would guess that these “free food” events were devastating to his salary. When equipment fails and product is lost, there can be significant costs. A sandwich shop franchisee owner told me the other day that if his walk-in cooler fails, he has the potential of losing over $10,000. In many of today’s stores, equipment temperatures are automatically captured by data loggers, as well as supplemented by manual verification checks—the risk of equipment failure and food loss is still a reality, but the risk seems to be mitigated because of the frequent checks.
 
However, to balance these risk mitigation improvements, USDA and FDA regulations surrounding food safety have also escalated dramatically since my father-in-law’s store management days. How long food can remain in the “danger zone” temperature range is clearly defined and enforced. So, when equipment does fail, the potential for food loss has increased if not caught in time. Quickly responding to equipment failures and triggering food loss mitigation workflows is the name of the game in today’s warehousing, retail, and restaurant environments.
Enact and QSR - A Good Match

Good: Manual Data Collection

Rather than waiting until the next morning to discover that a cooler went down, implementing manual equipment temperature checks a few times per day is a very good practice. This activity regularly verifies that equipment is operating within standards. And while the temps are being recorded, there’s time to perform quick visual inspections to verify cleanliness and storage housekeeping as well.
 
Whenever a noncompliance condition is found, the event is documented on the form, along with any corrective actions taken. Storing these forms for easy retrieval provides evidence that the checks were performed. If further analysis is warranted, the data from these forms can be entered into a computer spreadsheet.

Better: Adding Automated Data Collection

What about introducing some automation? Rather than pulling someone off a revenue-generating task to walk around and collect temperatures at specified times, why not make a modest investment in data logger devices that connect to the store’s Wi-Fi network and collect the temperatures automatically? There are a few things that make these systems superior over manual checks:
  1. Sampling intervals can happen as often as you like. Rather than a couple of times a day, the logger can collect readings several times an hour. As often as you like or need.
  2. Data is collected 24/7. Over time, you have a complete history of the equipment’s temperature profile as the unit(s) run through their cooling cycles.
  3. The loggers can automatically send alerts whenever a reading falls outside of the acceptable range. This way you can respond the instant a failure occurs.
Any equipment that needs to maintain a temperature range is a candidate for automatic temperature monitoring. The only challenge is to find the hardware to do the job.
Use Enact for Food Temperature Monitoring

Best: Early Warning from Automated Data Collection

What’s better than automated data collection? An automated data collection system that provides early warning notifications. Getting a real-time notification when a piece of equipment is not meeting standards is great, but how much more valuable would it be if you were forewarned when a piece of equipment is about to fall outside of standards.
 
Even if the heads-up was only an hour or two ahead of time, just imagine how much cost and risk could be avoided. Being notified at 3:00 AM that your cooler is close to failing is so much better than the 3:00 AM notification that your cooler has just now gone off the rails (out of temp). 
 
Because these early warning notifications are based on sound statistical rules, you can rely on the veracity of the alarm and never be inundated with false alarms. This solution is at the heart of InfinityQS’ Enact® Digital Food Safety platform. From the ground up, Enact was designed to analyze all streams of data for anomalies that could lead to trouble. Operating with Enact is like having a canary for each piece of monitored equipment in the QSR “coal mine.”
Enact is Your Canary in a Coal Mine
 
These four blogs that comprise the Life of Data series thus far have focused on the importance of data at your QSR, comparing data stream results to standards and why that’s important, and how early warning predictors can help your QSR. In the next installment, we’ll discuss how proper food safety data analysis can save your brand. So, please come back. It’s going to be fun!

Quality Control Challenge

Take the time to investigate what the Enact platform can do for your business. Don’t allow preconceived notions of the difficulties and costs of transforming your quality efforts in your QSR get in the way of making the leap to constant improvement and safety…and quality excellence. Get started with your quality transformation today with Enact.
 
Read the other blog entries in this Life of Data series:  
Take advantage of the technology at your fingertips today: contact one of our account managers (1.800.772.7978 or via our website) for more information.
 

 
 

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