Paperwork: it’s the bain of every manager’s life and the commercial kitchen environment is no exception.
Chefs and catering managers will readily admit that when they can’t be found rushing around preparing dishes or ordering next week’s ingredients, they’re probably hidden away in a dark room making sure that every compulsory daily food safety, cleaning and hygiene box has been ticked — and if it hasn’t, trying to find out why not.
The good news is that this relentless and often exasperating scenario no longer needs to be the case. Companies such as Monika, which provide temperature monitoring solutions and task management systems, now offer technology that works around the clock to ensure that everything in the kitchen is tracked, logged and reported — and accessed any way a user wants.
Paper-driven systems have served as a functional method for tracking kitchen tasks since what seems like time began and many operators will argue they manage just fine, but that doesn’t stop it making environmental health officers twitchy. It can be open to abuse, mistakes can be unaccounted for and tasks can simply be forgotten.
“If you have got a kitchen where everything is falling apart because a chef’s off ill and they’ve got 500 people to banquet for, the last thing they are worried about is the administration that goes behind it,” says Monika’s managing director, Simon Frost. “But, of course, it is a necessary evil. Everything is fine with the world until somebody goes down with a food-borne illness, and then there is cost of reputation and cost to the business and everything else that goes with it.”
Monika’s solution is essentially divided into two clear parts: PathFinder, which provides up-to-the-minute temperature records for fridges and freezers, and sends warning messages in real time; and TaskMinder, which ensures the timely and effective completion of jobs, checks and inspections according to a personalised schedule. Tagging technology links each task to a person and a place, ensuring total traceability and tamper-proof records.
While food standards guidelines suggest that fridge temperatures should be checked at least once a day, most caterers will typically do it once in the morning and once at night. And although this keeps them firmly within the boundaries of the regulations, it fails to provide any kind of snapshot of what’s gone on in between. But with systems like Monika, which sit within standard refrigeration cabinets, coldrooms, hot cupboards, display fridges, chest freezers and even dishwashers, the system automatically monitors — and logs — conditions on an ongoing basis.
“The reader wakes up every seven minutes, takes a reading and sends it back to the system,” explains Frost (right). “The benefit of having this is that it’s constant. It is immediately a piece of paper that the chef can dispense with and doesn’t have to worry about. He knows there can be no ambiguity or absent-mindedness and it has the benefit of an alarm which will alert the user if there is a problem.”
The readers that sit inside the equipment are all operated by standard AA batteries (which is the reason for the seven-minute interval; it prolongs their usage), ensuring recordings are still taken even if there is a power outage. No WiFi is required as the system works on the ZigBee radio band. Customer support is an important element of the strategy, says Frost. “We are the only company that has their own in-house engineers. We have eight of them across the UK and we provide full support.”
It is immediately a piece of paper that the chef can dispense with and doesn’t have to worry about. He knows that there can be no ambiguity or absent-mindedness”
Operators use temperature monitoring systems for a variety of reasons. Monika carried out a trial this year with Wagamama where the chain’s primary motivation was being able to free up employees’ time so that it could be spent more effectively. Additionally, with more than 120 restaurants in the UK, it was also looking at a large, potential saving in printing costs.
Monika’s largest customer is Iceland, and its equipment is in every store that the chain operates in the UK, while financial services giants UBS and ING are also on its client roster. It even has 28 systems in the Houses of Parliament.
Frost says one of the advantages for chain businesses, in particular, is that its software offers management a bird’s eye view of what issues might be occurring at site level, allowing them to implement changes from afar. The system is built around a traffic light system and if certain KPI thresholds are missed then it will display the task in red, giving the administrator an instant visual picture of the situation on a real-time basis.
“I’ve never demonstrated it better than with Asda because when they first took on the system everything was red because they weren’t doing the walking around [and checking] and they weren’t doing the probing when they should have done. It gave them the tool to be able to identify where the areas for improvement were without having to go to every site. What was really interesting was the way the different managers approached it. Some approached it with a stick to beat the staff, and they didn’t get the results they wanted, whereas those with a more consultative and conciliatory approach tended to get better results. You could see the improvement in terms of the reporting and how it changed from red to green.”
All in all, Frost insists that systems such as Monika’s TaskMinder provide the “due diligence” that operators are increasingly crying out for in today’s market. “It helps with team management, and there is traceability,” he says. “Operators are getting mired with oodles of paperwork, but this is automated, so it is another thing they don’t have to worry about.”
Up in the cloud
Monika now offers a cloud-hosted subscription service that allows customers to monitor their business 24/7 from anywhere in the world via a smartphone, tablet or computer. The hosting system is fully scalable, so it suits independent sites as well as multi-national chains, group operators and franchises.
Monika says the service represents a cost-efficient alternative to the local server hosting of recent times. The company’s systems remotely monitor temperatures and task completion data in real time, while the door and compressor status of refrigeration appliances, probing temperatures and HACCP duties can also be recorded.
Logged on an easy-to-read dashboard, the system provides everything from a simple colour-coded overview to more detailed stats and alerts on an entire estate or broken down to an individual outlet, appliance or operator when required. F&B managers can access reports detailing the performance of equipment and task management data, while also providing clear key performance indicators and HACCP compliant graphs and reports.
Simon Wood, technical manager at Monika, says: “Having recently updated the physical hardware, attention turned to the technology behind our systems and how we could enable our system to become fully remote and accessible for our customers. The launch of the cloud hosting subscription service represents just that, a completely remote, fully accessible yet secure service that operators can use to monitor their business 24/7 from anywhere in the world.”