August 8, 2014

NUTS AND BOLTS: Temperature monitoring

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You probably know we’ve had big plans for Clover since day 1. You may not know how critical technology is to our vision. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Clover just couldn’t exist 10 years ago. Not because eating plant-based is hot now and wasn’t then (thought that might be true to some extent) but because the way we build our food systems requires modern technology. It simply couldn’t be done without. Same with training, employee scheduling, communications, etc.

Almost a year ago I shared our recipe template, which is pretty great and open for all to use. Since then we’ve had a ton of people use that recipe template. And daily I have others ask me about what we do and what tools we use. Eric Moskowitz from the Boston Globe wrote a really detailed article about what we do with data at Clover that’s generated even more interest. So I thought it might be helpful if I share some more specifics on tools we love. Today: temperature monitoring. We’re working with a company that actually spun out from some technology developed at the Media Lab at MIT.

One of the most critical controls for food safety is temperature control. If you’re not in the business you may have to pause for a moment to really understand this. I know that before I started Clover it wasn’t anything I knew about. Rolando had to teach me. Because unlike your fridge at home that may get opened a few times a day, refrigeration in foodservice is in constant action. At home when you want to store something you just throw it in the fridge. In foodservice cooling is an active action you’re doing to the food. At the end of the day you need 2 data streams:

– Temperature of cooling devices (e.g.,. refrigerator)

– Temperature of food

The standard approach in the industry is to have a couple of thermometers in your refrigeration and, if you run a clean operation, record those temperatures periodically through the day. You use a small probe style thermometer to test food. And if you run clean you do this throughout the day and record the temperature to a clipboard.

We went searching last fall for an upgrade. I want real time temperature monitoring, accessible from anywhere, with full stored history. I also want that history to track each food item, but we’re not there yet. There’s a company that spun out from the MIT Media Lab called FreshTemp. They make these wireless temperature monitors that you can put in refrigerators to monitor the temperature. We’ve installed them in our restaurants, commissary, and trucks. It’s a new project for us and the company, FreshTemp, is still young and developing their product. But overall it has been awesome. They send you a text message if your temps are out of range. You can pull up full temperature history from the cloud. It’s great.

For now we use simple probe thermometers to temp food and we log the data into cloud-based reports. But FreshTemp is working on a wireless temperature probe that would support direct logging of item temperatures. Can’t wait.

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