Better Food Safety through Technology

Written by Milt Miller – As food service technology advances into the future, the ability to pre-order meals on-line will become increasingly more important. Food allergies are on the rise among school aged students. Anaphylaxis is the number one cause of death involving foods in young adults. As the number of young people with food allergies continues to grow, concerned parents and school administrators are searching for ways to make serving them safer. Our northern neighbors in Canada, appear to be leading the fight for developing rules and protocols making school and university food operations safer for students with food allergies. Sabrina’s law was, passed after the death of a thirteen year old, who had an anaphylactic incident at school during lunch. It is designed to protect students with food allergies by making sure all school boards have policies in place that address anaphylaxis. Allowing students and parents to select and order a meal ahead of time could provide staff ample time to prepare a safe and allergy free meal. Pre-ordering technology can assist in making school lunch safer.

Menus are posted on line allowing parents to see the nutritional make up of school food offerings. Meal monies can be paid in advance and budgeted by how many times a week a student will purchase breakfast or lunch. Reports are generated permitting parents to see what their students are actually purchasing and they can control what they purchase on line in real time. Student food allergy information appears on the cashier’s screen to insure student safety.

I am familiar with at least one school software company, which is already providing parents and students with the ability to pre-order menu items. Currently, what I have seen in this development process, is the ability to order single menu items ahead on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Pre-ordering of this nature would provide parents with the option to plan their child’s meals and avoid the confusion experienced by young children in a cafeteria line, when forced to make choices. At the middle and high school levels pre-ordering would allow meals to be picked up at a specific area and cut down on time standing in line. However, with a bit of tweaking, the ability to pre-order an entire allergy free, reimbursable meal is also available with this system. What a relief this could turn out to be for parents and school food professionals alike.

Parents would be able to pick allergen free meal choices that could be pre-ordered for their students. What a bonus that would be, especially at the K-5 level, to insure that safe meals would be served to their children on a regular basis, without having to worry about what they are actually choosing. School food workers would be able to produce these items first in an allergen free atmosphere, know what special products are needed, and insure that each child is getting safe meals. Whew!! What a relief as a parent and as a school food professional.

There is now the ability to post menus on-line listing which of the six major allergens, peanuts, tree nuts, lactose, gluten, eggs, and shell fish, are not present in the dish. There can also be low carbohydrate and high protein meals for children with diabetes. By utilizing this technology parents could safely make choices for their young students. The students could pick up their meals in a special area, as they would have been made ahead. What more could one ask for food safety and efficiency? Older students could pre-order these allergy free, safe meals and pick them up in a designated area too. Operators would know in advance what products were needed and how much to order, what a benefit. I have spoken with college food providers recently, who are exploring the same type of process to effectively deal with food allergies. As we move forward allergies will not be going away and the need to deal with them will continue to increase. Better labeling and packaging only go so far. Anaphylaxis is the leading killer in food bourn issues involving students of all ages.

I see a need to grow in the future to provide safe allergy free pre-ordering options. Several companies are on the cusp of making this pre-order option a reality and at least one is already making this technology available. I believe this is a major breakthrough not only for safety, but also for speed of service and production efficiency. What do you think?

Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com

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