Remote Monitoring Services Can Help Prevent Food Safety and Loss Issues
By Ron Chapek
Grocery and convenience store brands build their reputations one customer and one product at a time. As shoppers roll down store aisles, they expect fresh, high-quality foods. Retailers need to consistently deliver in this area to drive customer trust and loyalty.
If customers encounter food quality issues or are unsure of the safety of the foods offered in a retail store, it could negatively impact consumer perceptions and the retailer’s bottom line. One of the ways to provide consistent food quality is for retailers to maintain their refrigeration systems to avoid costly equipment failure that could compromise food quality and affect the shopping experience.
Preventing food loss and protecting customers from foodborne illnesses are critical concerns for retail store operators. Cost-effective monitoring methods can help address these concerns. Utilizing software and service management programs— customized for supermarkets, convenience stores, retail, commercial buildings, foodservice and transportation—will assist users to:
- Optimize facilities and operation
- Maintain conditions, assets and facilities
- Sustain refrigerant and energy management
- Care for fresh foods, consumers and the brand
What is Remote Monitoring?
Remote monitoring services provide real-time performance data on critical store equipment, including insights around energy expenditure, equipment operating condition and health, facility maintenance needs, refrigerant leaks and shrink causes. Some services offer simple systems for food monitoring but have limited insight into other facility systems, lacking the big picture for retailers to fully know the impact of a potential issue. Equipment diagnostics assist retailers in understanding a specific equipment issue, provide the information to help make a fast decision and take necessary actions, ensure that the problem is actually fixed and deliver valuable insights into how to prevent incidents in the future.
To help ensure fresh, top-quality food that meets consumer expectations, retailers should accurately and efficiently report product and case temperatures in stores and within the facilities and transport vehicles of suppliers. Relying on manual temperature recording can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Food quality reporting through remote monitoring can automate this process to reduce human error and increase efficiency, while helping to improve food safety and customer satisfaction.
Monitoring Outside the Store
With remote monitoring, retailers can also control and monitor their facility systems across multiple sites and their entire enterprise, giving them the ability to better safeguard food and maintain efficiency throughout their entire chain.
Effective monitoring and maintenance of retail refrigeration systems helps enable end users to offer fresh foods to customers that demand healthy and convenient options. Retail facilities are getting more complex as additional equipment is integrated, and monitoring services offer valuable insights to assist in the optimization of store operations.
Merchandising is also a critical component to customer satisfaction and topline revenue. Equipment diagnostics will not only help ensure that these fresh foods are safe, but also can provide insights to enhance the product presentation with goals of increasing sales and abiding by strict regulations.
Food Safety Modernization Act
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), an important new regulation, will require stakeholders to implement and document a program ensuring safe transport of food within the U.S. Shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers engaged in transportation operations need to be aware of and understand the impact of FSMA. The intent of these regulations is to properly protect food and in the end, consumers.
We recommend a proactive approach to food safety that can help mitigate risks, reduce shrink and protect brand reputation. The fresh foods supply chain is complex, with multiple steps and parties involved, and if inconsistencies in temperature occur in any segment along the journey from farm-to-fork, food quality and safety can be compromised. Also, companies that recognize the technology advancements available for automated, real-time temperature monitoring can use these solutions to modernize their supply chain.
FSMA affects five key areas:
- Mandatory comprehensive, prevention-based controls for food facilities
- Inspection and compliance to provide oversight and respond effectively when problems emerge
- Authority to better ensure that imported products meet U.S. standards for food safety
- Recall authority for all food products
- Enhanced partnerships and collaboration among all food safety agencies
So, what does FSMA mean for food retail facilities?
As the regulations address the entire supply chain, not all provisions of this legislation apply to food retailers. But retailers should review the law and its provisions because it places specific responsibilities and accountabilities on supply chain participants for actions and validation of processes. Thus, grocers will need to work collaboratively with their food suppliers and transportation carriers to ensure that all suppliers are aware of what’s needed for food safety compliance. Some information from FSMA that may be of particular interest to retailers includes:
- Procedures to assure that facilities and vehicles used in processing and transport did not allow food to become unsafe or altered
- Documented food processing and transport safety programs
- Verification that supply chain employees were adequately trained on proper, safe temperature management during processing and transport
- Temperature monitoring and reporting that demonstrate food was processed and transported under safe temperature conditions
As this legislation is new, how it will be enforced is yet to be seen. Communication, collaboration and training among retailers and their supply chain partners will be essential as developments continue.
Remote Monitoring in Action
A large food retailer with nearly 850 supermarkets wanted to reduce their perishable shrink expense without increasing their labor force. Their installed network of energy management systems generated alarms, but store personnel often did not have the expertise or time to analyze the alarms and respond appropriately.
The retailer invested in a remote monitoring plan to monitor and triage refrigeration and equipment alarms for 55 stores. Third-party monitoring technicians and refrigeration experts would investigate equipment and temperature alarms for validity and severity before notifying the appropriate personnel. The combination of advanced alarm handling systems—which group, filter and normalize alarms—along with the expertise of trained technicians helped replace the flood of raw alarm data with an efficient and effective stream of action-oriented insights.
To test the impact of having a strong monitoring system in place, monitored stores were compared to a comparable set of un-monitored control stores. During the first 8 months of the alarm management program for this particular test case, the monitored stores had helped lower food loss expenses, resulting in savings of $31,891 dollars.
Ron Chapek is director of product management responsible for ProAct Enterprise Software Services at Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions, Retail Solutions. Chapek’s focus has been on leveraging new software tools/platforms to better serve the multi-site retail segment. For more information, visit Emerson.com.