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Chris Fryman
Written by Chris Fryman
August 21, 2018

How Modern Inventory Management Improves Food Safety

In the hospitality and food services industries, food safety failures can be poisonous to your business reputation.

In 2015, an E. Coli outbreak at Chipotle Mexican Grill resulted in 53 customers being infected, and forced the chain to close 43 of its restaurants in Oregon and Washington. It’s now been three years since the incident, yet customer perceptions of Chipotle have still not recovered.

woman eating being sick restaurant Adobe Images-640x426 

In a recent UBS Evidence Lab survey, 26% of respondents said they were eating at the chain less due to concerns about food safety. And the impact on non-customers was even more pronounced, with a whopping 60% of respondents who didn’t eat at Chipotle expressing “a complete loss of trust in the brand”.

This is especially striking considering the extensive efforts Chipotle has made to redeem itself in the eyes of consumers. As Wall Street research firm Cowen and Co notes, “Despite new food safety protocols, enhanced marketing efforts, and new menu additions, no tangible initiative over the past 18 months has managed to reverse, let alone marginally improve, overall respondents’ perceptions.”

As a result of this one food safety failure, revenues at Chipotle fell 13% in 2016 to $3.9 billion, and barely managed to climb back to 2015 levels of $4.5 billion one year later. Today, Chipotle stock trades at a mere 60% of the value it enjoyed before the E. Coli scare.

The Key to Strong Food Safety Management

When it comes to food safety, an ounce of prevention is worth ten pounds of cure. And while restaurants are technically not regulated by standards like HACCP and FSMA, it still pays to learn from these frameworks where they can help reduce the risk of food-borne illness.

A core recurring theme in these best practices is the need for robust, modern inventory management systems. After all, you can’t effectively prevent or manage contaminations if you can’t keep track of where your food is coming from, and how it’s being handled.

Chef and cook taking inventory Adobe Images 640x426

Today’s cloud-based inventory management systems make that task a lot easier, even for the busiest restaurants. There are three important ways these systems can facilitate food safety.

1. Improve Food Traceability

FSMA requires food manufacturers and processors to maintain “one up, one down” visibility of their products’ movement through the supply chain. This is also a good practice for restaurants to adopt, as it will allow them to monitor the quality of the ingredients they’re receiving from various suppliers – and quickly contain contaminated batches if required.

Many foodservice companies are adopting the common GS1 Standards for this very purpose. These standards specify a universal ID system for tagging individual items, thus making it easy to track those items as they move through the supply chain.

Vivonet Inventory Manager takes this logic to the next level, by providing centralized management of all vendor orders, invoices and shipments in one unified interface. This design allows restaurants to have a much better visualization of their “one up” supply chain at a single glance.

2. Solidify Best Practices

The HACCP standards emphasize the importance of screening food items at various critical control points. By codifying and following consistent best practices at these points, the overall risk of contamination is significantly reduced.
For instance, when ingredients arrive at your restaurant, there are three key steps employees should take to verify the quality and safety of the product:

  • Check documentation to ensure that the food is coming from an approved source.
  • Take external temperatures of 5-10 items with a food probe.
  • Evaluate the condition of the packaging for accidental damage or intentional tampering.

Similarly, there should be another set of standard procedures for when inventory leaves your restaurant. These could include inventory picking based on strict “first expiry first out” rules, and regular inventory expiry analysis to ensure that stale ingredients are promptly disposed of.

kitchen staff member taking inventory Adobe Images-640x426

However, codifying these procedures is one thing, consistently applying them is another. The reality is that human employees will make mistakes, skip steps or simply forget to do things over time.

A modern inventory management system can help to solidify best practices by automating or enforcing many steps of the process. For instance, it can automatically keep track of expiry dates and send alerts to employees when certain items should be disposed of. It can also require that employees check for temperatures and input them into the system before allowing them to receive inventory. This greatly reduces the risk of human error and frees up employee bandwidth to focus on other tasks.

3. Eliminate Paper

Paper-based inventory management systems are slow, tie up costly employee hours and are fraught with inaccuracies. Most importantly, food inventories are perishable and often experience high turnover, making them practically impossible to track reliably with paper.

A cloud-based inventory management system can streamline many aspects of the tracking process. For instance, Vivonet Inventory Manager allows employees to take inventory via tablet, and automatically syncs that data to your other back of house systems. You can further automate the data collection process by using barcodes to capture inventory information where appropriate.

Vivonet Inventory Manager 640x373

By replacing paper-based systems with digital ones, you’ll be able to increase inventory management efficiency while minimizing errors.

Better food safety with modern inventory management solutions

Given the damage a single health scare can inflict on your brand, it makes sense to invest in modern food safety technology. By upgrading to a robust cloud-based inventory management platform, you’ll be well-positioned to prevent such crises before they even have a chance of occurring.

Food safety is a vital concern to every food services organization. Our food services and hospitality customers are able to keep their eyes on the ball because they have the tools to make sure they're always aware of the status of every ingredient in every location. 

At Vivonet, we know the food services space very well. If you have concerns about food safety, or you're seeking to do a deeper analysis on ensuring it, talking to us about a cloud-based inventory management solution is a logical next step. 

I invite you to do that right now.

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