Actor Traceability

Jun 2, 2020 8:47:48 PM / by David Cox

How is COVID-19 changing the way caterers and food service providers approach food safety and traceability?


Traditionally, ‘food safety/food traceability’ has meant guaranteeing the safety and integrity of food, per se, and enabling the tracing of food up and down the supply chain.

The realisation that COVID-19 can be transmitted by contact transfer is leading to greater emphasis on digital food-handler health/traceability’: are the workers (‘actors’) in the food supply chain COVID-19-free and, if food has been handled by actors in the chain-of-custody and they subsequently show symptoms of the disease, can the scope and impacts of their activities in the chain-of-custody be swiftly and effectively traced?

On 15th March, 2020, in response to the established threat of COVID-19 being spread on cruise ships, Australia banned those arriving from foreign ports from docking anywhere in Australia. Despite the ban, on 19th March, 2019, four ships already en route to Australian ports were granted an exemption, with one of them, the Carnival Corporation’s Ruby Princess, docking at Circular Quay in Sydney. Some of the 2,700 passengers and crew were already showing symptoms of COVID-19. Despite the fact that test results for them hadn’t yet been returned, they were all allowed to leave the ship. Soon after disembarking, test results confirmed 13 ex-passengers were infected with the disease, too late to prevent them and the rest of the passengers travelling throughout Australia and to other countries.

Just 20 days later the outbreak had contributed to over 10% of Australia’s total COVID-19 infections and, as of 15th April, 2020, 19 passengers from the stricken Ruby Princess were dead, representing 30% of all the COVID-19 deaths in Australia.

Given that this disaster unfolded just one month after 700 passengers had been infected and 12 had died following their berth on the Ruby Princess’s sister vessel, Diamond Princess, there were alarms raised as to why the Ruby Princess was given an exemption and allowed to dock. An official investigation began.

Early on in the investigation, it was expounded that ‘patient zero’ in the outbreak was likely to have been a kitchen staff member who spread it to fellow staff members then to guests via food outlets.

As of April 20th, 2020 the inquiry is still underway.

Currently, in most large-volume/high-risk catering operations there are robust HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) plans which are designed to prevent and mitigate the spread of foodborne diseases. As the main cause of foodborne illness is inadequate temperature control, HACCP plans focus largely on controlling the temperature of food at certain times throughout the catering process.

COVID-19 is not a foodborne disease, so it would seem, at first glance, that caterers and food service providers are unlikely to be held responsible for the transmission of the disease through their operations and therefore their HACCP plans should not need to change either.

However, cases of COVID-19 transmission, including the Ruby Princess, signal a growing trend of increased scrutiny of catering operations regarding the potential transmission of disease, not from food, but via workers in their employment who are involved in the preparation, handling, serving and delivery of the food at the multiple links in the chain-of-custody between ingredient and customer.

Here are two issues that must be taken into account by caterers moving forward in this new era of customer awareness, some practical solutions, and an overview of how we are helping clients solve this problem with QA Chef.

‘Actor’ Health

By this we mean: how can a caterer or food service provider minimise the chance their workers are infected with COVID-19 and how can the operator mitigate transmission of the disease from an infected worker to other workers and customers?

Here are some basic, non-technical solutions that are easily deployed:

  • Pre-operational checklists – these checklists (see here for a summary from Diversey)are commonplace in catering operations but now there may be added to these lists the answers that employees give when asked about their health, indicative symptoms and any prior contact with infected people such as other family members
  • Handwashing and Sanitising – frequent handwashing and hand sanitising limits the transmission of COVID-19. Therefore, strict regimens of handwashing and sanitisation should be put in place
  • Environmental sanitisation - thorough cleaning and sanitising of facilities, equipment, and transport vehicles (including food contact surfaces and equipment, but also door handles, light switches, floors, walls, and other 'high touch' areas)
  • Temperature checking – employees have the temperature of their foreheads checked and recorded
  • Masks – the wearing of masks is a way that caterers can show they are trying to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and is an acknowledgement that temperature checking is not completely reliable, carriers sometimes being contagious but not showing an abnormally high temperature.

Example of technology being used to help solve this problem:

Amazon and Walmart have recently started using infra-red thermometers to check employees’ temperatures before starting shifts.

Actor Traceability

In the same way that an ingredient may be made traceable in order to facilitate a product recall, if a worker (‘actor’) is discovered to be COVID-19-positive, how can their movements and actions be traced in order to identifying other workers or customers who may have had the disease transmitted to them?

Here are some basic, non-technical solutions that are easily deployed:

  • Food safety records – HACCP plans often require workers’ names to be recorded on food safety records and
  • Food labelling – cook/chill facilities in particular may require food at various state-changes to be labelled which may include the name of the person responsible
  • HR records – facilities usually record when employees start and finish a shift
  • Video cameras – for oversight and retrospective diagnosis, continuous camera footage is sometimes applied, particularly in fixed food preparation areas
  • Transaction records – if Point-of-Sale is digitised, a customer’s receipt or invoice may have the delivery person’s name recorded.

Example of technology being used to help solve this problem:

In response to a drop in sales due to consumer concerns about COVID-19, Rebel Foods and Swiggy, two Indian cloud kitchen companies, are reacting by recording and presenting to customers the body temperatures of the food handlers in the catering process.

QA Chef

What is QA Chef?

QA Chef is the ultimate solution to the challenges of food safety compliance and end-to-end traceability in any catering or food service environment. It features a handheld ‘Q-Pack’ device with touchscreen, temperature probe, infra red sensor, barcode scanner and camera. It integrates with an ERP system in order to digitise the paper records at every CCP, validating shelf lives of food items, triggering FEFO (First-Expired-First-Out) inventory management, and providing a seamless digital map of every dish’s food safety journey from ingredient to customer.

QA Chef also digitises checklists such as pre and post-operational checklists, with the ability to record photos and verify identities. For example, if there is a box to be ticked when all employees are observed wearing hairnets, instead of a paper record, the Q-Pack verifies the user operating it, then requires them to take a photo of the workers with hairnets in place, for greater proof of compliance and adherence to food safety rules.

How can QA Chef solve the challenges of actor health and traceability?

QA Chef’s software architecture is designed to be flexible and conform to the shape and nature of a caterer’s food safety processes, not the other way around. Thus, in the case of actor health, QA Chef can be easily configured to verify workers’ body temperatures as part of a pre-op check.

  1. An employee has their barcoded (or QR coded) ID tag scanned on entry into the facility. This validates their identity and registers them in the system
  2. A photo of the employee is taken for further verification
  3. Forehead temperature is taken using the Q-Pack’s infra-red sensor. In this picture, the Q-Pack has registered a temperature below 37.5°C (showing in green).
  4. Forehead temperature is taken using the Q-Pack’s infra-red sensor. In this picture, the Q-Pack has registered a temperature above 37.5°C (showing in red). This triggers an alarm and the operator initiates corrective action, for example alerting the compliance officer or security and receiving medical advice.

QA Chef also automates the labelling of food at every state change. This means the identity of the person responsible for the food is scanned and recorded at every stage of the process as well, meaning any actor’s movements in the chain of custody can be traced at the press of a button.

For example, should a worker show symptoms of COVID-19, all the food safety records or other data points associated with that worker can be filtered so that their contact with other workers or with customers can be established.

If you are a large-volume/high risk caterer and wish to reduce risk, boost reputation and protect your customers, make an appointment to talk to our team today.

David Cox, CEO












Tags: Insider, qa manager, chef, covid-19, haccp

David Cox

Written by David Cox

CEO & Co-founder of QA Chef