LoRaWAN Provides Food Safety in Quick-Service Restaurants
First published by IoT for All
Illustration @ IoT for All
Quick-service restaurants (QSRs) in the United States represent a large share of the total food consumed by Americans. There are more than 100,000 quick-service restaurants in the United States, and 85 million people in America eat fast food most days of the week according to the CDC. Among the many challenges restaurants face in their effort to serve customers is the ability to ensure both consistency and safety in the food they prepare. Maintaining that consistency for quick-service restaurants (QSRs) across multiple locations necessitates the use of verification processes to ensure day-to-day operations are executed correctly. Let’s look at the challenges facing QSRs and how LoRaWAN can provide reliable connectivity for food safety monitoring.
Owners of quick-service restaurants often own multiple franchises of the same restaurants. For these owners, it is important to reduce their operational costs and mitigate the financial risks of serving unsafe food. With this in mind, compliance with FDA-mandated food safety guidelines is critical for every restaurant to ensure that the food delivered to customers has been stored and prepared safely. While owners can train and educate their employees about the importance of food safety, they historically have not had direct access to real-time data such as temperature monitoring in refrigeration walk-ins and food service stations, meaning they could be serving unsafe food without knowing it.
Additionally, labor shortages have driven restaurant managers to focus on how to get the most out of their employees’ time. The restaurant workforce is projected to grow by 400,000 by the end of 2022 according to the National Restaurant Association, however, that still represents a 6 percent decrease against pre-pandemic levels, forcing restaurant operators to do more with fewer resources.
Part of the solution to the labor problem is reducing the amount of time employees spend on repetitive, mundane tasks, so they can focus on more mission-critical jobs. In many restaurants, employees are required to manually log the temperatures of various foods and refrigeration areas during working hours to ensure that they are compliant with food safety regulations. These processes take away from the time employees could be spending preparing and serving food or performing other customer-facing tasks. Restaurant owners are now at a crossroads where they must improve productivity by reducing operational costs, while also ensuring that they are fully compliant with food safety and other operational requirements. This is precisely where LoRaWAN networks and sensor-enabled network-connected devices can assist.
Food Safety for QSRs
To solve the time and cost challenges of ensuring food safety, some QSRs have implemented automated temperature monitoring processes by equipping refrigerators and freezers with network-connected sensors. With real-time visibility into a restaurant’s cooling devices, restaurants can monitor temperatures 24/7 while avoiding the time-consuming manual processes of logging food temperatures manually.
Additionally, real-time temperature monitoring can provide complete visibility and control over a restaurant’s operating conditions. Food monitoring systems consist of sensor-enabled devices, which collect time, temperature, location, and other environmental data, and automatically send it to restaurant managers for visibility. When a food’s temperature deviates from normal levels, monitoring systems can alert managers who will work to fix the problem as it is happening rather than after the fact. Additionally, this data produced by any one of several franchise restaurants can be viewed on demand, making data easily accessible for sharing and audit purposes, and allows owners to virtually monitor and proactively respond to issues as they arise.
For restaurants and QSRs, the benefits of leveraging temperature monitoring solutions are threefold:
- QSRs can prevent food spoilage or loss caused by improperly storing food. An average restaurant’s refrigerated inventory is valued at around $10,000, all of which could go to waste if that refrigerator is improperly cooled.
- QSRs can better control their labor costs and help manage their already limited resources by automating their manual temperature logging processes.
- QSRs can protect their brand integrity and the food they are serving by proactively avoiding foodborne illnesses in their restaurants. One foodborne illness outbreak can cost a restaurant between $4,000 and $2.1 million depending on the severity of the incident, legal fees, and fines, according to Johns Hopkins.
LoRaWAN for Real-Time Monitoring
When connecting sensor-enabled devices, it’s important that restaurants utilize the appropriate connectivity to ensure that sensor devices are working consistently and accurately. Part of the problem with deploying devices is that restaurant designs make it challenging to leverage wireless technologies like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to provide coverage throughout the entire space and penetrate through dense walls and metal equipment that are often found in back-of-house kitchens.
An ideal wireless technology for restaurant monitoring is LoRaWAN. LoRaWAN is an extremely robust network technology that outperforms alternatives in challenging restaurant and QSR environments. LoRaWAN sensors are capable of reading and reporting temperature, humidity, and location, and transmitting data over networks designed in public or private configurations, which is essential for food safety monitoring. Because they only transmit as needed, LoRaWAN sensors are extremely power-efficient and can last for over ten years on one set of standard AA batteries.
Furthermore, the open standards of the LoRaWAN protocol support the addition of many more network-connected applications in the future if needed. Once a restaurant has established a LoRaWAN network for connectivity, they can add new sensors and solutions to automate other functions of their business, including:
- Water leak detection
- Gas leak detection
- Connected restrooms
- Grease trap monitoring
- Pest management
- Inventory management
- Physical security such as door & window monitoring
Better Connection for QSRs
As restaurant owners continue to grapple with labor shortages and uncertainty related to food quality and safety monitoring, they must look to automate and improve aspects of their business that are disproportionately burdensome on their employees. By leveraging carrier-grade LoRaWAN networks and sensor-enabled devices to automate back-of-house restaurant processes like temperature monitoring, QSRs can benefit from better visibility into operating conditions and the quality of the food they sell.