For any organisation, conforming to health and safety standards is a necessary evil. In heavily regulated industries, failure to comply with specified requirements could have direct consequences for customers or service users – and result in a large fine, a halt to business, and long-term reputational damage.
Yet compliance is not these companies’ core business, so any service that reduces the pain, cost and administrative burden of meeting regulatory requirements – including the ability to record and report on ongoing checks – is one of great value to affected organisations.
Leeds-based Cocoms is a specialist in health, food and fire safety compliance services and solutions. Since 2002, it has been providing expert consultancy, auditing and crisis management services, as well as e-learning and software solutions, to help take the strain out of compliance activities.
To keep adding new value for its clients, and to differentiate its business from competitive services, Cocoms is a keen innovator – always looking for new ways to streamline compliance activities.
Most recently, the company set itself the goal of solving an age-old problem affecting the hospitality and food industry: how to enable creators and handlers of produce to reliably automate temperature recording and reporting.
“This is an area where many organisations still rely heavily on pieces of paper, which is extremely inefficient, subject to error – not to mention fraud – and very hard to audit,” explains John Dyson, Cocoms’ founder and managing director.
The need to exercise ‘due diligence’ under Food Safety Legislation has become increasingly onerous for hospitality businesses, he notes. The consequences of failing to adhere to strict temperature controls can be extremely serious too: people have been jailed for falsifying food storage records after cases of food poisoning have resulted in death. “This kind of thing concentrates the mind,” he says.
Cocoms’ desire to tackle the temperature recording and reporting challenge goes back a couple of years. “First, we had to find a compatible thermometer,” Dyson explains. “Then, we needed to develop the software to manage the recording and reporting.”
A web-based system that reliably automates temperature recording and reporting. Information is transferred between a thermometer and PC via USB, without any need for user intervention
Cocoms has a long-standing relationship with bespoke software development company DCSL Software. Based on numerous successful projects together, the company didn’t hesitate in approaching DCSL to take on the software development for this latest venture.
Ever since they turned around a failing software project to do with fire safety risk assessment in 2006, when regulations changed in the hospitality industry, we’ve turned to DCSL for our development needs. They’ve always been spot on in interpreting our needs and producing systems that deliver exactly what’s required.
In this case, the objective was to produce a web-based temperature recording and reporting system to eliminate the need for paper records, saving Cocoms’ food industry clients time and money, while improving their compliance.
The system developed by DCSL is used in conjunction with the Saf-T-Log thermometer from digital thermometer manufacturer ETI. As usual, DCSL harnessed the latest development technologies to turn the project around quickly, working on it collaboratively with Cocoms, to get the specifications for the system exactly right. In this case, DCSL built the system using Microsoft .NET 4.5.2, ASP.NET MVC 5.2, and Entity Framework 6.1.
Thanks to DCSL’s collaborative, iterative approach to the development process, the system was up and running and ready for use within two months of the spec being completed.
Although Cocoms owns the rights to the software, DCSL Software runs it on the company’s behalf from a highly resilient Rackspace data centre, so Cocoms hasn’t had to worry about installing any specialist server hardware.
How it works
Taking regular, accurate readings from the digital thermometer, the DCSL solution provides a database of temperature records which can be kept indefinitely and cannot be tampered with. All information management happens digitally, and the software provides reports on non-compliant temperatures every 24 hours – alerting nominated managers to potential problems so they can be addressed quickly.
“An added bonus of this is that food businesses can detect very early on if there is a technical fault with fridge/freezer equipment, allowing them to take action,” Dyson notes.
Reports can be produced using a variety of filters – for example by date, week, month, food, process, and user – and emailed or printed if required.
The system is very easy to use, having been built using highly intuitive, user-friendly technology. Secure access is provided via a user name and password for each site manager or business owner, who can easily set up the required information fields – eg. the names of users responsible for taking the temperatures; frequency of temperature checks; items to be monitored (food, equipment and processes such as cooking, cooling, reheating, deliveries); and temperature parameters for each check.
Information is transferred between the thermometer and PC via USB, without any need for user intervention. Once temperatures are uploaded they can be immediately viewed by the manager.
The collected readings are securely accessible via the web in various views (eg. summary, then details) with clear indicators of where there is a problem (eg. fails or missing readings), so remedial action can be taken promptly and the database automatically updated. Automatic emails about issues can be set up to go to designated managers too.
Cocoms knows of only one other temperature recording solution on the market today, which Dyson notes is a Windows-based rather than web-based solution, offering limited functionality. “Ours is really the first of its kind,” he says.
Cocoms now offers the DCSL-developed software to its clients on a subscription basis, adding a new strand to its portfolio – and a new revenue stream for the company.
The value to clients is unmistakable, according to Dyson. “The accuracy of the system, the fact that it can’t be tampered with, and the ability to keep records indefinitely – and analyse and report from them quickly – is hugely important for the companies we deal with,” he says. “If you think about long-life products, now there is a simply way of tracking them throughout their lifetime without any risk of missing information.”
One of the first clients to take up the solution is Ed’s Easy Diner Group, a fast-growing chain of restaurants. “They’re using it right across the business,” Dyson reports. “They started with a trial of the software in December 2014, but decided to roll it out just four weeks later – that’s how obvious the benefits were.”
“The reporting, the ease of access to information, and the ability to do away with illegible, buried paperwork are all very attractive selling points for the solution,” he adds. “It’s not just the ability to meet compliance requirements, but also the peace of mind of being able to ensure that equipment is working properly. It was a ‘no-brainer’ for Ed’s Easy Diner – the returns will be many-fold in efficiencies and risk avoidance.”
Of the company’s relationship with DCSL Software, Dyson says, “I’ve been working with DCSL for a long time, so I knew what they were capable of. The company has grown and expanded its resources over the years, which has meant they deliver projects even faster now – and they already provided a rapid turnaround!”
“The technology they use is always impressive too,” he concludes. “I particularly like the traffic light features with this system, which make it very easy to pick out any issues. The output is very clear; the beauty of the system is its simplicity. If it was too complicated, clients would soon switch off – they’ve got far too much to think about as it is.”
“Nick Thompson at DCSL is a bit of a genius when it comes to the latest technologies. You can present him with a problem and he’ll be straight back with a solution. We’ve never had any reason to look elsewhere.”