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Compliance solution for temperature and more…

20 November 2016

Suzanne Gill reports on an automated wireless solution which is helping Bakkavor to maintain its consistent high scores in retailer audits. 

The Bakkavor Cucina Sano business unit in Lincolnshire has been producing Italian ready meals, deli items and a range of gluten free products for around 10 years, supplying M&S. The company has an excellent record of compliance and regularly achieves the highest possible audit scores.
When a retailer code of practice was updated to suggest that continuous monitoring of temperatures within areas of the factory, along with door open/close status was desirable, the company set about finding out how this could be achieved. “Because the codes of practice suggested a continuous monitoring system for this, we set out to look for a solution that could offer both temperature and door monitoring which would allow us to excel in another compliance area too,” explained Nigel McCulloch, a senior process technologist at Bakkavor Cucina Sano. 

The code of practice which the company adheres to suggests that the temperature of food production areas be continuously monitored. “It is possible to comply with this requirement simply by having a quality assurance team member record the air temperature two or three times during each shift. However, we made the decision to seek out a better solution that would provide us with an automated, continuous monitoring solution,” said McCulloch. He is part of a team of six that is responsible for scaling up new recipes from creation to production. His secondary function relates to food safety and the management of factory equipment, so he also bears the burden of validation of temperature control in process areas.  
While the team were looking for a solution the Checkit system was suggested and Bakkavor Cucina Sano became one of the first food processing facilities to trial it. The system offers a scalable continuous monitoring solution, comprising of a network of wireless sensors that are able to monitor both temperature and the opening and closing of factory doors. Regular readings are taken and the data sent wirelessly to an account where it can be analysed and made available for audit purposes.  The system is also able to send real-time alerts in the event that a sensor exceeds its set limits, so it offers the team better plant visibility.

Showing its potential
The system showed its potential at the factory very early in its trial period while it was being used in a food storage area. “By coincidence, the system identified an issue with synchronisation of defrost cycles on our evaporative chillers,” said McCulloch. “Traditionally, with such an issue we would have needed to install temperature loggers in the area for a few days to collect data for analysis. With Checkit the issue was identified almost immediately.

“With the sensors positioned at doors around the plant we now receive text messages and alerts if doors are left open,” said McCulloch. “Also, if the temperature in an area starts to creep up we will also be alerted. In the past we have lost product due to mechanical failures on external freezers not being identified in time. Now we are quickly alerted to any change in temperature which allows issues to be addressed in a more timely way. Checkit has been great for policing the factory and it lets us know as soon as a problem starts to develop.”

“We also like the fact that the sensors are easy to move around the site and can be quickly repurposed. The factory is growing rapidly and areas can change their use frequently so flexibility is vital,” said McCulloch.  The system runs its own wireless network within the factory so does not interrupt production or affect site security. 

“It is a simple and intuitive solution which does not require users to have a great deal of training – it literally took 10 minutes to explain to the team how to use it,” said McCulloch. “We have seen direct and tangible benefits from using the system. For example, we recently had a planned power shutdown to allow power to be added to a new water recycling plant on the site. The Checkit system is designed to work during power outages so continued to collect and store data while the power in the factory was off. When power was restored the sensors uploaded their stored data to our account immediately. This meant that we were confident that food storage areas had remained within acceptable temperature limits throughout the powerout period.” 

The next step
The next step for Bakkavor Cucina Sano is to trial the latest generation of Checkit’s wifi-enabled handheld work management devices. The Checkit Memo downloads scheduled tasks from a cloud account, then prompts and guides operators through those they need to undertake, before sending the data back to the cloud in real-time. It also allows wireless temperature measurement using a Bluetooth probe. “The technical team has a large workload and the nature of the job can change on a daily basis. We are hoping that this solution will enable the team to become more efficient and will allow us to save a great deal of time-consuming paperwork,” said McCulloch. 

The solution was also easy to get approval for as there is no large initial outlay. Instead the system has a modest monthly subscription fee which covers everything - service, calibration and replacement of broken units. “This made it a very easy pill for management to swallow!” concludes McCulloch. “Our customers are also happy with the system. We have been asked to provide details to others because it has been recognised as being a gold standard compliance solution and our customers want to encourage their other suppliers to follow our lead, which is a great compliment.”

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