3 Common Causes for Food Spoilage (And How to Prevent Them)

Date Posted: July 29, 2019
3 Common Causes for Food Spoilage (And How to Prevent Them)

Food spoilage is a widespread problem in the U.S. and the world at large.

In 2018, for example, researchers estimated that about 150,000 tons of food were tossed out in U.S. households every day.

And according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), around 30-40% of the American food supply consists of food waste.

But isn’t this just a problem for environmental, health, and safety reasons.

In fact, food spoilage can cost restaurants and other industries thousands of dollars in lost assets per year.

Today, we’re going to explore three common causes for food spoilage in the restaurant industry and different ways you can prevent these very avoidable—but prevalent—problems.

That way, you’ll not only save significant amounts of money, but you’ll also preserve your assets, help the environment, be less at risk for food safety issues, and have happier, healthier customers.

3 Common Causes for Food Spoilage

1) High Temperatures Caused by Broken Food Service Equipment or Doors Left Open

Temperature is an extremely important part of food preservation. But when temperatures rise unexpectedly, food can spoil more quickly.

That’s because any 18°F rise in temperature within the 50°-100°F range doubles the chemical reaction rate that causes food spoilage. When the rate of natural food enzymes increases, proteins break down, foods dry out due to lost moisture, and some vitamins are ruined.

Freezer, cooler, and refrigeration unit temperatures can go up unexpectedly or without notice when the food service equipment breaks down. This usually occurs because of equipment irregularities, refrigerant leaks, and compressor failures—commonplace factors that affect many restaurants and other businesses.

Here’s a real-life example of how a refrigerant leak in a walk-in freezer cost a food distributor about $10,000 in 2018:

  • What: Refrigerant Leak
  • Who: Food Distributor
  • Asset: Walk-in Freezer
  • Date: 7/12/18
  • Assumed Asset Value: $10K

Temperatures can also go up because of simple human errors like employees leaving refrigerator doors open accidentally or not fully closing them.

Consider this real-life example where a top 100 restaurant lost about $10,000 in assets because an employee left a cooler door open:

  • Who: Top 100 Restaurant
  • Asset: Walk-in Freezer
  • Date: 6/22/17
  • Assumed Asset Value: $10K
Hitachi Sensors

Our sensors provide a traceable path and monitor sensitive inventories every step of the way, from transit to storage and final delivery.

2) High Temperatures Caused by Power Loss  

Besides food equipment failures and issues caused by simple human errors, power loss can also make the temperatures increase in freezers, coolers, and other units.

It goes without saying that long-term power outages caused by natural disasters can lead to significant food spoilage—especially when you didn’t know the storing temperature beforehand.

Even if the power loss is intermittent, any increase in temperature of 18°F within the 50°-100°F range can still affect the quality of your food.

Operators end up throwing food away because they have no way of knowing the temperature at which the cooler/freezer was operated.  Our sensor stores data during the power outage and starts downloading as soon as the power is restored. Operators can make a decision just by looking at the report.

3) Uncontrolled Cold Temperatures Caused by Broken Food Service Equipment or Doors Left Open

Have you ever put a banana in your refrigerator? If so, you probably noticed that it ripened much faster than bananas kept in areas at standard room temperature. This happened because bananas and other types of food actually spoil faster when the temperatures are too cold.

Here’s why: Uncontrolled cold temperatures can cause uncut fresh fruits and vegetables to spoil when they freeze and then thaw.  This produces effects like discoloration, cracked or pitted surfaces, and susceptibility to microbial contamination.

Temperature dips are often caused by the same culprits that cause unintended temperature increases: food service equipment failures and doors left open.

Freezers, refrigerators, and other units may become too cold due to defective defrost heaters, evaporator fan motors, or air dampers/freezer controls.

Having too much frost can also make the temperature drop. Common causes for frost buildups include equipment issues like ripped gaskets and frozen freezer drain tubes.

But this can also happen when freezer doors are accidentally left open by employees. That’s because when doors are left open too long, warm air and humidity enter the unit, causing frost to build up.

Here is a real-life example of what happened to a freezer unit when someone left the door open for an hour. You can see how the temperature dropped drastically in a short amount of time:

How to Prevent These Common Causes for Food Spoilage

IoT (Internet of Things) technology can help prevent unexpected increases or decreases in temperature due to human error, food service equipment failures, and at times, power loss.

What is IoT Technology?

IoT is a popular industry term that encompasses internet-connected devices like smart cars, smart vehicles, and smart thermostats over a wireless network.

It’s all about bringing technology, data, and analytics to the “things” in our world that historically didn’t have technology.

That way, people can save money, identify inefficiencies, save time, and be alerted to issues before they become significant problems.

Two Kinds of IoT Technology Solutions that Prevent Food Spoilage 

Two specific solutions that can help prevent food spoilage include:

  • Environmental monitoring and reporting systems
  • HVAC optimization/monitoring node systems

1) Environmental Monitoring & Reporting Systems

Environmental monitoring and reporting systems like HiQ eSystems® remote monitoring and reporting systems give a higher level of food safety intelligence.

These solutions provide safety directors, owners, operations directors, and others with confidence and peace of mind in knowing their assets are protected.

Here’s how they work.

Rugged smart sensors like Hitachi’s GlacierStorm, and Volcano monitor the hot, cold, and cool-down temperatures—the temperatures of any kind of food service equipment—to identify any potential failures or irregularities. Everything is connected over a cloud portal.

Any time there is an issue, the users get notified by custom alerts via text, voice, or email. You can also monitor and record all of your temperatures in real time wherever you are.

That way, if the temperatures in any of your units start to go up or go down when they’re not supposed to, you can catch the issue ahead of time and prevent further food spoilage.

Learn more about our environmental monitoring & reporting systems! 

2) HVAC Optimization/Monitoring Node Systems

These kinds of systems monitor temperatures and systems building-wide. Edge and cloud-based node solutions use artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor HVAC systems and optimize HVAC performance.

Similar to environmental monitoring and reporting systems, HVAC optimization/monitoring node systems extend the life of your equipment, save energy, and notify you of any issues including power outages and HVAC equipment failures.

You can also track and monitor temperatures using your operator dashboards.

Contact us (spdsales@hitachi-hta.com) if you want to learn more about Hitachi’s energy management solutions.


Food spoilage is expensive and common, but by knowing the causes and implementing solutions like the IoT technology systems we mentioned here, you can prevent lost assets and be notified to potential issues before they cause food to spoil.