How Environmental Temperature Sensors Can Help Restaurants Avoid Costly Food Safety Violation Fines

Date Posted: January 30, 2019
How Environmental Temperature Sensors Can Help Restaurants Avoid Costly Food Safety Violation Fines

Besides news about major food recalls because of potential contaminants like E. Coli and salmonella, we’ve also seen a plethora of stories in recent years about restaurants getting fined for food safety violations.

In fact, this occurred recently in our home state of South Carolina.

On January 5 of this year, the Greenville News reported that 36 restaurants in Greenville County were fined more than $39,000 in 2018 because of food safety violations.

Overall, fines varied from $800 at the lowest to $2,200 at the highest—certainly no minor expense, especially for single-location, independent restaurants.

According to Greenville News Reporter Donna Isbell Walker, these fines were issued because of “violations ranging from failure to keep foods at proper holding temperatures to improper sterilization of equipment and food-contact surfaces.”

She went on to explain that “DHEC guidelines state that cold foods should be kept at or below 41 degrees, and hot foods at or above 135 degrees.”

What is the DHEC?

DHEC stands for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, a state agency focused on promoting public health and reducing, controlling, and preventing pollution.

Representatives from this agency regularly inspect restaurants to ensure they meet the standards as outlined in Regulation 61-25: Retail Food Establishments. This regulation’s defined purpose is “to safeguard public health and provide to consumers food that is safe, unadulterated, and honestly presented.”

And these standards are ones to take seriously. In another DHEC publication, the agency states that the five major risk factors which contribute to foodborne illnesses (per the CDC) are:

  1. Improper holding temperatures
  2. Inadequate cooking
  3. Contaminated equipment
  4. Food from unsafe sources
  5. Poor personal hygiene

In today’s article, we’re going to focus on that first risk factor and explore how the risk of improper holding temperatures can be prevented with environmental temperature sensors like Glacier (temperature), Storm (temperature and humidity), Volcano (hot), and Hot spring (cool down temperature) from Hitachi and HiQ eSystems®.

By preventing these risks, restaurants like those affected in Greenville County (and all over the country) can protect the health and safety of their patrons and staff and, in turn, avoid costly food violation fines.

What Inspectors Look For: TCS Food & Time/Temperature Control for Safety

When retail food establishments are inspected by DHEC, the inspectors examine specific aspects of a restaurant to see if they are in compliance with Regulation 61:25 and how they handle the CDC’s five major risk factors.

This includes evaluating time/temperature control for TCS food safety.

According to the National Restaurant Association:

“When working to prevent foodborne illness, it’s important to recognize that some food items are more likely than others to become unsafe. Those items are known as TCS food. TCS food requires time and temperature controls to prevent the growth of microorganisms and the production of toxins. This food contains moisture and protein and has a neutral or slightly acidic pH.”

Examples of TCS food include milk and dairy products, poultry, eggs, fish, baked potatoes, cut tomatoes, sprouts, shellfish, crustaceans, and meat (beef, pork, and lamb)—or in other words, the majority of food served by modern restaurants.

DHEC inspectors evaluate several factors to see if restaurants offer proper time/temperature control for TCS food safety:

If an inspector finds that a restaurant is out of compliance for any of these factors, the restaurant is more likely to be fined—much like the restaurants in Greenville County who were fined last year.

Possible Violations

Within Regulation 61-25, there are several instances where a restaurant could easily be considered out of compliance.

For example, if your walk-in freezer malfunctions and the frozen TCS foods it’s holding are not maintained at 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) or less—or at least frozen—you violate section 3-501.12 of this regulation.

Or if you have cooked food that isn’t cooled from 134 degrees F (57 degrees C) to 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) within two hours due to, say, food service equipment failures or simple human error (or even both), your restaurant will not meet the standard outlined in section 3-501.14 of Regulation 61-25.

4 Ways Environmental Temperature Sensors Can Help Restaurants Avoid Costly Food Safety Violation Fines

The possibilities are myriad, but preventing them—or catching them before they become an issue—is easy with environmental temperature sensors.

Let’s explore how.

The pace of any restaurant can be extremely fast. Staff members have to wear many hats. As an owner, general manager, or maintenance manager for one restaurant or a restaurant chain, you have to put out many fires (both literal and figurative) on a daily and even hourly basis.

In such a busy environment, doing things like recording the temperatures of your foodstuffs or equipment at predetermined times can unfortunately easily fall by the wayside.

And as a result, you won’t know if you’re potentially violating anything from an extensive list of major food safety violations.

Thankfully, environmental temperature sensors and asset-control systems like those offered by HiQ eSystems can help in several ways:

1) You can take advantage of automated asset monitoring.

With our environmental temperature-monitoring and reporting systems, you can monitor your assets remotely and automatically. This saves your staff valuable time and ensures proper food protection.

Additionally, you can evaluate your assets 24/7 and receive text, voice, or email alerts if any issues arise. And all temperatures can be monitored including hot, cold, and cool down temperatures, so you can act before your assets spoil.

A key element is the ability to record temperatures at predetermined times. To many, this might sound like something that only happens in an ideal world. Environmental temperature sensors make this possible.

2) You can keep accurate records without human intervention.

Humans are fallible and make mistakes. That’s a fact and what makes our lives so interesting. But it also means the errors happen despite our best intentions.

By using environmental temperature sensors, however, you can minimize the possibility of human error and improve data accuracy. Consequently, you can ensure compliance with government food and health mandates like those outlined in DHEC Regulation 61-25.

In addition, with the HiQ eSystems customer portal, you can download a temperature-monitoring report for internal audit and health inspections without difficulty, thereby expediting the process.

3) Multilocation restaurant owners can check data anytime and anywhere.

Many restaurant owners own more than one restaurant. This makes asset management and monitoring particularly tricky.

But with environmental temperature sensors, you can access real-time data about your equipment anywhere with a PC, smartphone, or tablet. It makes optimizing your maintenance schedules much easier since you can monitor your assets in multiple locations at a quick glance.

4) You can detect a potential equipment failure before it’s too late.

Have a failing cooler or freezer? Environmental temperature sensors can alert you before it becomes a huge issue. For example, with our HiQ eSystems analytics, you can detect the potential failure of any of your restaurant equipment.

Example of what the HiQ eSystems dashboard will show a restaurant owner

Conclusion

Food safety violations have become a common affliction that must be prevented in the future. Fortunately, with today’s remote sensor technology, it’s becoming much easier to stop these issues from occurring. As a result, you can keep the safety of your consumers at the forefront, protect your brand’s reputation, and lower the risk of costly fines.