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Vigilating from far away

Krish Saxena elaborates on the benefits of remote monitoring and management in commercial refrigeration

| | Jan 30, 2017 | 4:43 pm
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– Krish Saxena

Foodborne illnesses constitute a preventable and underreported public health problem. The illnesses are a burden on public health and contribute significantly to the cost of healthcare.

Although anyone can get a foodborne illness, children, the elderly and those with a suppressed immune system are at greater risk. According to an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne illnesses caused anywhere between 310,000 and 600,000 deaths globally in 2010[1]. In 1993, the United States government, through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued the first FDA Food Code, which made it mandatory for restaurants, grocery stores and meat shops to follow specific technical and legal requirements for handling food and food products. Since 1993, the food code has been adopted by several jurisdictions, which use it to regulate the US food industry.

Another food safety management system is the universally accepted Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), in which every step of the food production, storage and distribution processes is analysed to determine possible contamination. The US FDA has guiding principles for HACCP, which the body recommends be followed by those involved in the food industry. With increased awareness and the advent of more stringent guidelines and standards, food safety has become more important today than it used to be, decades ago.

Instead of averting a disaster by providing real-time alerts, the standalone temperature monitoring devices only serve as a tool to perform an autopsy of the food after the damage has already been done

Why is food monitoring important?
Most of the food-related hazards can be avoided by keeping the food within safe temperature limits in cold chain from farm to table. This can be achieved by carefully monitoring the conditions the food is stored in.

Roughly a third of the food produced each year in the world for human consumption is either lost or wasted[2]. Part of this is due to poor temperature monitoring and management techniques. Furthermore, large companies are constantly faced with lawsuits owing to consumption of contaminated food produced by them. They also run the risk of compromising the reputation of their brand or losing the loyalty of their customers, if they are not vigilant. Today’s business environment brings with it immense competition. It is, therefore, important for companies to constantly invest in the future and strive to deliver the best value to their customers.

How is food monitored today?
Most of the current installations use standalone controllers to monitor and control cold rooms. This requires the user to be physically present at or near the controller all the time. If unexpected conditions arise and no one is present in the area to take action, it could lead to the food getting spoilt, resulting in significant losses to the user.

Some installations also use standalone data loggers to log the temperature during transport or storage. But instead of averting a disaster by providing real-time alerts, the standalone temperature monitoring devices only serve as a tool to perform an autopsy of the food after the damage has already been done.

A few installations use Remote Monitoring System (RMS). These systems provide only one-way communication from the controller to the user without the capability of remote diagnostics and rectification. In the event of an alarm, the user is notified, who has to, then, visit the site to identify the problem and, then, either fix the alarm at that time if possible or come back later.

For the company as a whole, increased energy savings can contribute towards its LEED certification and HACCP compliance

How can RMMS help?
The best-in-class solutions for food safety are Real-time Monitoring and Management Systems (RMMS). These systems allow a secured two-way communication between the user and the instrument at any time and from anywhere in the world. All that is required is a computer or smart device with a 3G/data network or an Internet connection.

Through RMMS, users can access data from the controller from a remote location, perform diagnostics and correct the problem before the food gets spoilt. RMMS also provides the user access to historical data from the controller, such as temperature, pressure, RH, voltage, current, EEV, superheat and status of compressor, evaporator fans, defrost, condenser fans, door and lights. The data can be retained for long-term filing, in case of disputes. Users can initiate defrost or change the set point of other parameters from their remote location and prevent unnecessary trips to the site. If the alarm situation cannot be resolved remotely, remote diagnostics can allow service personnel to be more productive, and carry only the necessary spare parts and tools before heading to the site.

RMMS also contributes towards energy efficiency. With access to data from the controller, the user can easily identify areas in the system where energy can be saved. Sometimes, these fixes can be minor tweaks or adjustments in the system that can result in significant cost savings. For the company as a whole, increased energy savings can contribute towards its LEED certification and HACCP compliance.

RMMS technologies used to be very expensive in the past and were installed only on high-end large projects. Today, there are solutions available in the market that are reliable and affordable even to small users. Due to their affordable price, installers can gain a strong competitive advantage over their peers, if they are able to offer the option of RMMS to their clients. Clients, on the other hand, are provided with the insurance of keeping their food safe and free from contamination at a very low premium.


References:

[1] WHO Estimates the global burden of foodborne diseases http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/200046/1/WHO_FOS_15.02_eng.pdf

[2]  FAO of UN; Key facts on food loss and waste. http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/


Krish Saxena is with Trimac Inc. He can be contacted at info@trimacinc.com.


CPI Industry accepts no liability for the views or opinions expressed in this column, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided here.


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