By Matt Bradford
Smart equipment. Connected apps. Cloud-based checklists and online training. It takes just one peek behind the counter to see how cutting-edge technologies are making commercial kitchens more productive, efficient, and attuned to food safety issues.
And it all goes back to connectivity. More and more, kitchens are relying on equipment with advanced sensors and analytic capabilities that can be monitored remotely 24 hours a day. These include refrigeration units that alert owners via their smartphones when temperatures fall out of range or ovens that detect and report failures for immediate repair.
“Constant electronic monitoring is becoming less and less expensive and easier to deploy, so you don’t have to be part of a huge chain in order to bring that technology into your kitchen,” offers Domenic Pedulla, president of the Canadian Food Safety Group, adding, “Not only does online monitoring maintain the best standards for public health, but it saves operators money by alerting kitchen staff sooner to pieces of equipment that are malfunctioning or not keeping the right temperatures. That lets them react before they lose valuable product.”
Kitchen equipment is also becoming more functional and self-maintaining. Conveyor ovens, for example, are entering the market with broader customization and pre-programming options, smarter controls, online features, and the ability to better regulate temperatures to meet exact preparation requirements.
Elsewhere, electronic checklists are also making their way into the kitchen. These are apps that can be used on individual phones or centrally mounted tablets that keep kitchen staff working as one and on the same schedule.
“If you’re the manager of the kitchen, you can see who is doing what, what still needs to be done, and how those tasks are coming together. For instance, you could have one employee probe the burger on the line at 2 p.m. and enter the temperature, which can then be seen by everyone on the system,” explains Pedulla. “That kind of technology is exciting because it’s taking away some of the guesswork that happens in the kitchen,”
Similar “networked” apps are also emerging that can help kitchen managers keep better track of schedules and log books, while collecting and combining data to form reports that can help predict times of high or low volume.
Add it up and it’s little wonder kitchens small and large are embracing new technologies.
“As labour becomes more expensive, deploying technology becomes more imperative,” notes Pedulla. “You need to make sure that person is producing to the best of their ability and they’re being productive to keep your cost alignments. These technologies can do that while also protecting your brand by ensuring and the safety of the food you’re serving.”
Ready to serve
As beneficial as they may be, technologies in the kitchen can raise concerns over added complexities and costs. In reality, today’s equipment manufacturers are seasoned food industry veterans who understand the demands of a kitchen and the need for equipment that is not only reliable, but easy to learn and operate. For this reason, modern equipment is often outfitted with touch-screen controls and software designed to take the onus off of kitchen staff. Moreover, while modern kitchens may require leaders with a sense for technology, many of today’s manufacturers are stepping in to do the heavy lifting.
“People that are offering and serving these technologies understand that the most valuable commodity in the kitchen is an employee’s time, so they’re aware that if a piece of equipment or new system becomes too time-consuming, it’ll be out the next day,” says Pedulla. “That’s why we take on all the back-end maintenance, set-up, and repair so that the employees in the kitchen can just use it.”
It also helps that it’s now easier than ever for food service professionals to train online for today’s kitchens. Canadian Food Safety Group’s provincially-approved online food safety certification, for example, allows students to learn their craft at their own pace and take a final exam online via a connection to a live person.
“What we’ve done differently is included the ability to take a final exam online as opposed to waiting for an in-person proctored exam. That makes certification instant once you write the exam, which helps people advance faster and bring greater skills to their kitchens,” says Pedulla.
Call it the “Kitchen of Tomorrow” or Kitchen 2.0. Either way, the evolution is far from over. Technologies on the horizon such as 3D food printing, unmanned drone and vehicle deliveries, and greater equipment integration are set to change the landscape.
“It’s an exciting time for the industry because there are so many innovations coming out that are going to help employees communicate more effectively with their equipment and have a better visibility of what’s happening with their products,” says Pedulla. “Overall, technology is going to help us get safer in the kitchen, not to mention make new and better foods.”
About the author:
Matt Bradford, based in Barrie, Ontario, is a freelance writer in the Canadian foodservice industry. Domenic Pedulla is president of Canadian Food Safety Group, a food safety and quality company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta. Founded in 2000, it offers confidential brand protection audits, and an online and onsite Canadian Food Safety Certification Course. For more, visit www.canadianfoodsafety.com.