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How to combat food safety concerns in Asia

October 3, 2019

Editor’s note: Lim Fang How is regional director for Southeast Asia at Zebra Technologies. The NASDAQ-listed company empowersthe front line of business in retail/e-commerce, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, healthcare and other industries to achieve a performance edge. Zebra’s tech has helped mega corporations like Disney to improve hygiene at its resorts. Zebra’s food labelling tech also ensures its buffets are up-to-date by monitoring stock levels.

Mention Southeast Asia, and the first thing that comes to mind is how amazing the food is. Not only is it something that we are passionate about; our cuisine is something we take seriously. But here comes a big issue: ensuring that vendors have acceptable levels of food hygiene while keeping up with the region’s growing population and its demand for food.

The APAC region has a poor track record when it comes to preventing food-borne illnesses, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It kills 225,000 people each year in the region. And the number of those who fall ill from tainted food is even more shocking – more than 275 million people.

Let’s zoom into Singapore, one of the region’s pioneers in new and innovative tech. The Lion City imposes strict penalties for lapses in food safety. A recent rise of food poisoning cases in Singapore led to several arrests over negligence. Known worldwide for its hawker and food culture, its government launched the Food Manufacturing Industry Transformation Map to help local businesses stay on top of challenges in the quickly changing consumer landscape and keep up with ever-changing tech.

Food safety, hygiene and storage management is at the forefront of success of any F&B or hospitality operations. Companies place a lot of emphasis on these elements, as they help ensure that the business remains reputable and safe for their customers. 

Achieving precise fulfilment, from start to finish

Businesses must ensure that operations are reliable and compliant with legislation, from the very beginning of the supply chain. Sophisticated food tastes, varying origins of produce and the increased focus on different diets and allergies make food storage an extremely persnickety process. It’s not just a case of cold or frozen storage; produce must be kept in a variety of temperatures depending on individual requirements. On top of that, all allergens must be properly labelled and kept away from foods deemed “allergen-free” and cross-contamination must not occur. Managing the stockroom is an endless proposition.

Parallel to managing inventory and stock, there is a growing desire among patrons and owners to know the exact origin and journey of food. To manage this process manually is near impossible, and is undoubtedly error-prone. One way tech has stepped in to mitigate this issue is with putting easy-to-scan codes on produce. Paired up with smart databases. this would mean that the full spectrum of information is readily available.

Intelligent cold chain solutions can effectively manage the transportation of goods and increase worker efficiency if implemented in the right way. For instance, by arming workers with cold-rated handheld or wearable devices that can withstand temperature swings, this allows them to manage stock and scan areas for issues. They’ll have increased visibility over the individual needs of the produce they are working with, removing the need for guesswork. This ultimately empowers workers to achieve precise fulfilment, no matter where the operation takes place. This is extremely important for countries like Singapore, which imports most of its food.

Arming the kitchen and its workers

One of the most important food preparation steps is the storage of dry and raw food in the kitchen, and it requires all staff to adhere to strict legal guidelines. In Singapore, for example, the Singapore Food Agency advises that chilled food should be kept at 4°C or below. In tandem, open foodstuffs must be wrapped and labeled with strict use-by or best-before dates clearly visible.

Meanwhile, foods that need to remain frozen, such as ice-cream or frozen meat must be stored in the freezer as soon as they are delivered and restaurants should strictly follow the “once opened, consume within xxx days” advice. Leaving frozen or raw food out at higher temperatures especially in warmer temperature puts customer safety and quality at risk.

To adhere to these strict regulations, efficient and accurate labeling is imperative, but this is not necessarily as easy as one might think. Kitchens are a difficult ecosystem to navigate. They can be simultaneously hot and cold in different areas – damp and dry. As such, traditional labels can fall off, smudge or simply not be effective. In tandem, the sheer volume of different ingredients in different dishes and products means things are constantly changing – no one label is the same. However, if even one seemingly insignificant piece of information is not relayed correctly, the consequences could be severe.

By arming workers and kitchens with specially designed compact printers, businesses can ensure produce is labelled efficiently and most importantly, accurately. Their size allows them to be placed in busy or cramped environments without causing disruption to workers, whilst being readily available to provide unique labels for each new product. Not only this, they also print specialized labels that can withstand a multitude of environments.

Keeping Disney’s Magic Alive

Improving food safety is more challenging than ever, thanks to the increasing expectations that customers have on restaurants and their meals, as well as the recent explosion of new tastes, diets and online review websites.

However, with the helping hand of smart devices and solutions, the restaurant industry can recognise issues before they become a problem, as well as improve monitoring, preparation and presentation whilst still ensuring compliance. Ultimately, this would help improve operational efficiency while creating an environment in which food safety is ensured at the same time.

Disney uses our technology at six of its resorts and 12 parks worldwide. Restaurants are key to the experience of millions, and Disney takes all precautions necessary to ensure not just unforgettable moments, but safe ones.

By investing in mobile devices from Zebra Technologies that can swipe any surface to monitor bacteria levels, Disney has successfully improved hygiene in its resorts, while food labelling technology has ensured buffets are up-to-date and stock levels properly monitored. Alongside this, wireless temperature probes were brought in to improve both employee and customer safety. In busy and constantly changing environments, tech has taken the strain off front-line workers, empowering them to work more efficiently and enabling them to focus on creating the atmosphere visitors expect from the brand.

Ensuring none of the data captured is wasted, Disney also tracks and analyzes a multitude of processes so it can proactively identify areas for improvement across all their restaurants. This increased visibility allows workers to predict where problems may arise, before they become a risk to customers. This leads to smoother service and significantly decreases the risks associated with temperature control and food.

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