“People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.” You’ve probably heard this quote by Harvard professor Theodore Levitt. It illustrates the fact that people don’t buy products — they buy the benefits those products provide.
It also describes TEGAM’s approach to temperature measurement. “People don’t just want a thermometer,” TEGAM president Adam Fleder says. “They don’t even care if they have a thermometer. What they want is to know that a product, say a palette of fish that just came off of a truck, has been kept cold. If it hasn’t, they want to be able to say, ‘We’re rejecting Batch 582 from Supplier Y because it’s been sitting at an elevated temperature, and here’s the reading.’”
The ability to accurately record and track temperature is crucial in an industry where one wrong reading can have devastating consequences, like a recall or worse. We spoke with Fleder to learn more about how advanced digital temperature measurement systems help companies protect their product safety and quality.
The problem with pen and paper
It’s hard to believe that in a day and age where we all walk around with high-powered computers in our pockets that the most common way to monitor and record temperatures involves a pen, paper, and a clipboard.
There are many challenges with this method. “It’s rampant, and the paper, clipboards, and pens are a source of contamination,” Fleder says. “It’s all something that can get into the food stream. We’re constantly showing people how they can eliminate the clipboard completely.”
Not only do these pens, etc., pose food safety risks, but manual systems are also common sources of errors, regardless of the recorder’s diligence and experience. “When you have data on a clipboard and you enter it into a computer, you can’t read your writing, or you transpose numbers as you’re going,” Fleder says. According to a recent whitepaper by the company, data entry error rates are a troubling 6.5% to 10.7%.
And this isn’t the only opportunity for errors to occur. Handwritten records make it difficult to verify what data was collected where and at what time, and data could be missing from times when employees felt rushed, skipped readings, or left before finishing a job. “It’s unfortunate that these things happen, but it’s also understandable because these employees are under a lot of pressure,” Fleder says. In the worst case scenario, these sloppy records could be used against the company in an FDA investigation or a legal battle.
To keep things foolproof, food processors and manufacturers must keep data collection as automated as possible. They need clear, easy-to-read displays and immediate, secure data recording.
This is where TEGAM’s fully digital system becomes indispensable. If a food safety issue arises, there’s no need to track down error-prone paper copies that only cause delays and confusion. Digital solutions minimize incorrect numbers and free up workers’ time to ensure all tasks are complete and accurate. “You don’t have to hold a thermometer with one hand and a clipboard in the other and try to write something down,” Fleder says. “You can simply move about your different test areas, audit your process, and continue on with your other tasks.”
Best of all, these systems facilitate prompt responses to potential food safety issues and provide detailed records to back up product decisions. If a batch of fish comes off a truck with an elevated temperature, the thermometer recording is attached to the batch number with the reason for its rejection. Fleder explains: “It ties into the company’s ordering system, payment system, business operating system, and safety system. So a company can say, ‘Look, we're not allowing a product into the facility that hasn't been kept at the proper temperature.’”
Collaborating with food processors to solve temperature monitoring problems
To create these advanced systems, Fleder’s team collaborated closely with food processors and manufacturers to identify their pain points.
TEGAM had a handheld thermometer that was already widely used in the food processing industry because it was easy to clean. “It didn’t harbor a lot of food particles, so you could use it in the food industry without worrying about work area or product contamination,” Fleder says.
Then they added Bluetooth® and other features to help processors meet their other end goals, like better recordkeeping. The result was the 931B. Here are the main benefits this innovative product provides.
Temperature probes designed for specific applications
The probe is the most important piece of a temperature monitoring device, but not all applications are the same, which is why TEGAM keeps a catalog of different configurations.
Length is one consideration: “You have this big tub of fish and you need a probe that's three feet long to go to the center of it,” Fleder describes. The type of product is another. Some probes must be able to work with gases, surfaces, fluids, and frozen products, which means they need a very fast response. Careful construction with a focus on durability ensures probes can withstand challenging temperatures and environments.
Accuracy, even in fluctuating temperature environments
Quality control specialists (or whoever is taking the temperature readings) don’t stay in the same environment all day. They may move from the raw ingredient preparation area to the thermal processing area to a cold storage area.
The problem is that a typical thermometer can take 20 to 30 minutes to adjust from cold to hot temperatures, or vice versa. Fleder notes that until the thermometer adjusts, the readings it takes can be wrong. “We compensated our instrument so that it can read correctly and adapt much more quickly as you go from these different environments,” Fleder says. This keeps processes moving smoothly, preventing waiting periods and miscalculations.
Accurate measurement not only ensures food safety, but boosts product quality as well. For example, the USDA recommends cooking chicken to 165°F. “But then the other side of it,” Felder says, “is if you’re overcooking a chicken, you’re drying it out. It’s losing flavor, it's losing quality. Now your risk becomes not food safety, but losing your business because your customers don’t like your product.” Exact readings make it easier to ensure FSMA compliance without sacrificing quality.
Another common source of frustration, and also potential cross-contamination, is battery chargers. “What's really annoying, of course, is when you go to use a tool and your batteries are dead,” Fleder says. “These are also areas where food particles can collect and break down, which means bacteria can grow.”
To address this issue, TEGAM completely eliminated the need for battery chargers. The 931B can run for up to 1,000 hours on three AA batteries. It will also shut itself off if you happen to leave it running. “It's conceivable that someone could use the instrument for an entire year before they ever had to replace the batteries,” Fleder says. This makes it convenient for food processors who don’t want to worry about battery replacement until the next annual servicing and calibration.
Automatic data collection and instrument control
Finally, the 931B not only captures data, but sends it to a central database via Bluetooth connection through a phone, tablet, or laptop. There is also an available Software Developers’ Kit for customers who are implementing plant- and corporation-wide data collection systems. Fleder says, “We developed a series of tools that programmers could use. For example, if you want to work with Windows 10, Windows Communication Foundation, we have software that's compatible with that. We provide the source code so you can simply copy the source code and reuse it.”
The software enables customers to guide operators through the data collection process and even control instruments remotely. “The system can send operators work instructions on a tablet — ‘Go to this station, make this test, etc.’” This on-screen guided process helps immensely with data collection, especially during staff turnover and while training new employees. “Your training time is shorter, and you can adapt it to more people and still get the same results for your process.”
Overall, Fleder believes TEGAM’s customers should feel confident in their measurements so they can make well-informed decisions on the job. They shouldn’t have to worry about incorrect temperatures causing spoiled food to pass through the production line. That’s why they invested in a state-of-the-art calibration laboratory to build and service instruments with a focus on precision. “We've become masters at temperature measurement and data collection so the industry doesn't have to question the accuracy of their measurements.”
TEGAM has exhibited several times at PROCESS EXPO to showcase their products and solutions, and they’re excited to do so again this year. If you want to learn more about TEGAM’s commitment to accurate measurements and data, visit Booth #834.