D6 Labs' Post

"Case Study: Please Don't Turn Off My Fridge"

Posted on Saturday, March 10, 2018. Steve Montgomery

A critical control point in food safety is the cold-storage environment—keeping food cold. This blog will discuss an anomalous case where a refrigerator in a restaurant was being inadvertently turned off by employees, only to be turned on again later, going unnoticed. D6 Lab’s FridgeTrak.io™ solution, incorporated with our complete FoodSafe.io™ solution, immediately detected this anomaly.

Regardless of the reason a refrigerator shuts down, a restaurant can suffer real problems if that event is not quickly identified.

Refrigeration units are one of a restaurant’s most critical pieces of equipment. It goes without say that if food is exposed to warmer temperatures for too long, the food becomes unsafe; thus, refrigerators keep restaurants in business and the public safe. Most restaurants follow the FDA’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) system for food safety and, thereby, identify refrigerators as a critical control point; therefore, refrigerators temperatures are logged, usually daily. If a refrigerator fails, in the best-case scenario, the restaurant will incur a loss for the cost of the food that is thrown away. In the worst-case scenario, the problem is not detected allowing a pathogen to grow in the food that causes a foodborne-illness outbreak: the CDC are experts at tracking such outbreaks back to an origin.

According to the CDC, 3,000 people die every year from foodborne illnesses, and more than 120,000 are hospitalized. Every time a restaurant’s refrigeration unit has a mechanical or electrical problem, that restaurant is in danger of being the source of another foodborne illness. For the restaurant’s owner, the liability can be significant.

Exacerbating that problem, in restaurant chains with many locations, it is nearly impossible for employees to catch every equipment failure unless the employees are well trained and very diligent. Most restaurants implement some form of a daily temperature-monitoring solution, where an employee is required to sample and record refrigerator temperatures periodically. Moreover, daily logging of equipment become monotonous and sometimes the employees just write in numbers, a process known to the industry as dry-labbing, or pencil whipping. Even with the best intentions, employees can get busy and forget to do the measurements or make mistakes when recording them.

To understand how this unique situation was detected and remedied, it helps to know how FridgeTrak.io™ works. FridgeTrak.io™ can be used solo, wherein it is used track refrigerators, or it can be used with a complete food-safety solution, called FoodSafe.io™, which is how it was used in this case. FridgeTrak.io™ provides an easy and cost-effective way to monitor refrigerators in real time. Air temperatures, food temperatures, and the door position are continuously monitored 24-hours a day. Values are recorded every five minutes and stored in the cloud. If a problem is detected, an alert is immediately sent by text or email, allowing management to respond before the food is affected. Because the readings are stored in the cloud, a restaurant owner can provide defensible reporting showing the proper operation of the units at any time.

With that understanding, our solution was installed in multiple refrigerators at a quick-serve restaurant. Within the first few days of installation, our system caught, reported, and alerted on a refrigerator that went out of range, just after the restaurant closed. After looking into what happened, it was determined that the refrigerator had an off/of switch on the wall that looked just like a light switch. The closing employees were diligently turning all the lights off and quite often this fridge was turned off in the process.

The problem arose in the morning when the startup crew would turn all the lights on. Needless to say, this fridge was turned on as well. By the time employees started using food, or doing temperature startup checks, the internal temp was cool enough not to be noticed. On nights where it was turned off, the food was heating up to room temp, being cooled again in the morning, and then being served.

While this is one key example is quite profound, it is only the minority of examples of how and why continuous tracking is valuable to restaurants.

Our technology has detected events such as a circuit breaker popping on a meat fridge, or a fault thermostat causing a fridge to slowly creep above an acceptable temp and then cool the food on a curve that took several hours. We have found devices to suddenly begin operating above the normal operating specs just to discover that something was sucked into the cooling coils, like a napkin or gloves.

Instant feedback coupled with historical reporting provides invaluable insight to our customers that not only helps them keep their food safe, but also gives them comfort that even after hours their refrigerators are properly functioning. Moreover, they get this benefit in a package that is easily installed and configured, but, most of all, is affordable. Whether the situation is a real equipment failure or something as simple as an employee turning off the wrong switch, refrigeration problems can be mitigated with FridgeTrak.io™.