FSA trials new tech for remote monitoring of food firms

New digital technology that is increasingly used by food businesses to manage hygiene practices could soon also be used to help environmental health officers (EHO) monitor food businesses in real time, enabling them to detect food safety problems sooner and improve protection for the public.

These are the findings of a new study published today by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) which has highlighted promising results from a trial of this new approach.

How the trial was conducted
The FSA, in conjunction with Checkit and Cambridge City Council, completed a three-month trial that saw five businesses in the Cambridge area replace their paper-based food safety management processes with Checkit’s digital solution. An EHO from Cambridge City Council inspected each business once a month during the three-month study to see how the digital records matched with conditions at the premises and to gather user feedback. During the trial, the businesses agreed that their normally-private data could be shared.

The study demonstrated the value of digital systems for food businesses, as an alternative to paper based systems, and recommended further research to test this approach with a wider range of businesses.

How the technology works
Checkit is a Cambridge-based company that has developed a real-time operations management platform to digitise food safety management processes. It replaces traditional paper checklists with smart apps and manual temperature readings with smart wireless sensors. All daily compliance checks are recorded using a mobile handset and the results are automatically uploaded to the cloud for storage. Through the cloud-based control centre users can access records remotely, receive alerts on any anomalies and use smart dashboards to track performance.

David Davies, product and marketing director of Checkit, explained, “We provided the businesses with a digital alternative to their usual paper-based checklist to give them a chance to see how technology can transform the way these everyday tasks are managed and monitored, and how it can facilitate smoother EHO visits. We take data protection very seriously and the cloud records are only accessible to the customer, but in order to facilitate this study these customers agreed to make their data available to the EHOs.”

Rosy Moore, Executive Councillor for Environmental Services at Cambridge City Council, said: “This pilot work we have undertaken with the FSA and Checkit reflects Cambridge City Council’s commitment to working with businesses to help improve their food safety whilst reducing the burden on all. We are pleased to have been involved in helping this local business in their development of systems that may make food inspection work more targeted, effective and efficient.”

Regulating Our Future
The study is part of the FSA’s Regulating Our Future (ROF) programme, which aims to transform the way food businesses are regulated in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Nina Purcell, Director of the FSA’s ROF programme, said, “This was a valuable study that was designed to see whether accessing data remotely from a food business could make inspections by local authorities more efficient and more effective.

“The businesses involved liked this type of technology and found it more efficient than the current paper-based system. Our colleagues at Cambridge City Council found that having the data was useful as it helped them form a view of how well the business was managed and keep a better track on businesses between inspections. We are currently redesigning the whole system for regulating food businesses and we envisage new technology as being integral to that new model.”