Whether it is being implemented to improve quality control, reduce staffing levels or comply with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) approach to food safety, more and more companies are automating temperature logging.
HACCP takes a systematic preventive approach to food safety that aims to prevent physical, chemical and biological hazards before they occur instead of traditional ‘produce and test’ quality assurance.
Potential food safety hazards are identified at every stage of food production so that key actions, known as Critical Control Points (CCP’s), can reduce or eliminate the risk of the hazards being realised.
All Australian states have adapted HACCP as part of their food safety guidelines and this trend is at least partly responsible for the movement towards automation, says Global Cold Chain Solutions managing director Andrew Meyer.
“A temperature logger is a temperature probe that remembers to take a reading and record it whenever you tell it to.
“They’re very good for replacing all the tedious manual paperwork that HACCP entails.
“For food processors the first CCP is usually the loading dock where materials come in, the next is storage, such as a fridge or freezer,” Meyer said.
If the product is being cooked, the core temperature of the cooking apparatus needs to be maintained at a certain temperature to kill any bacteria.
“The temperature ranges between 60°C and 85°C, depending on which State the facility is in, but it’s also dependent on the type of food being processed,” Meyer said.
“Chicken and seafood manufacturers, for example, will go above 85°C.
“The next stage is the cooling, which needs to be done reasonably quickly to stop the bacteria growing, and then there are the storage and transport stages,” Meyer continued.
At all these points the temperature needs to be monitored and at its most basic it can be done manually with a probe and a chart.
But companies are increasingly putting data loggers in at the control points.
The most basic data loggers need to taken back to a computer and downloaded, but they can be set to alarm if the temperature goes above or below a certain level.
While many companies continue to use these basic data loggers, there is a trend towards wirelessly networking data loggers into existing systems.
Arrow Scientific managing director Louis Petrin explained.
“Companies are trying to reduce staffing levels and human error so they’re looking to automate as much as possible, particularly [by installing] loggers that transmit temperature information to the desktop.”
These systems allow a process manager or operator to see the status of any control point from their desk and the data is also archived onto hard disk or tape to refer back to in the event of a problem.
“Wireless capability is also a major trend,” Petrin said.
“Wiring itself is difficult to do in a plant environment so anything that can be done to make it wireless is looked upon favourably.”
A lot of these systems also have features such as remote access via a web browser, and the plant manager will get an alarm via SMS and/or email if the temperature falls or rises beyond a certain range.
Systems that are networked into the control systems in a feedback loop to maintain optimum temperature offer another level of sophistication.
Bürkert Fluid Control Systems managing director Chris Hoey believes that many companies are going further than the level required by HACCP because they are looking at product quality, repeatability and risk management.
“Integrated systems which allow one person to control the batch process, filling process and traceability through a common interface are becoming more readily available and much more affordable,” Hoey said.
“So mid-sized companies, and even smaller ones, are looking to automate as the best way to achieve the required quality.”