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Don’t Get Labelled ‘Unhygenic’ By Customers – Why The Right Stock Rotation Process Is Vital

Robust stock rotation processes play a crucial role in protecting customer wellbeing and the reputation of a business. But too many still rely on handwritten ’day-dot’ labels, asking too much of staff at a time when skilled employees are hard to find, as Ged Cairns at Brother UK explains.

According to the Food Standards Agency’s latest public survey, the hygiene rating of a business is the biggest concern for diners looking for somewhere to eat out*. For restaurants, bars, hotels and catering businesses, this underlines the importance of achieving and displaying a good hygiene score.

Of course, for a business owner or manager, there is more at stake than a rating displayed in their window, website or brochure. Neglecting to put robust processes in place can put customers at risk and lead to serious financial and reputational damage for the business.
As anyone who works in the hospitality and catering industry will know, a reliable stock rotation regime is key to maintaining the highest standards of hygiene, and businesses must be able to demonstrate this to an inspector in order to secure a five-star rating from the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

For that reason, an effective and error-free food labelling process is critical.

Fit for purpose?

In a busy food-prep environment, there is a high volume of produce being removed from freezers or arriving as fresh deliveries to be temporarily stored in readiness for preparation and serving to customers. Therefore, it’s vital to know what stage in the process each food item is at, how long it has been there, and when it needs to be used by.

Unfortunately, in our experience consulting with businesses from across the hospitality sector, at least two thirds are currently using handwritten ‘day-dot’ labels for their stock-rotation process. And it isn’t just small independent firms: in our research, a large number of multinational operators continue to hand write their stock rotation day-dot labels.

Typically, colour-coded labels are used denoting different days of the week – a process known as day-dotting. This identifies when the food has defrosted and is ready to use. The colour of the day signals how long it can still be used and by when it needs to be thrown away if not used by then.

Despite this, this manual process can easily lead to mistakes. It relies on kitchen or serving staff writing the information accurately 100 per cent of the time while, in some cases, creating hundreds of labels every day.

With hospitality and catering firms currently facing significant skills shortages, the result is that they are often relying on unskilled or unqualified staff to carry out product labelling and the associated paperwork, adding to the risks. The process is so important that, in extreme cases, companies are forced to use over-qualified staff to handwrite labels, just to make sure the right information is recorded.

Handwritten labels are also prone to smudging and can become illegible, which can create a lack of accountability, as well as uncertainty over important details like item contents and use-by dates and times. All of these things could result in a lower score in a food hygiene inspection.

Of course, not only are handwritten labels less legible, they are laborious, consuming employee time that could be better spent serving customers.

When it comes to such a critical system, there is a strong argument that businesses can’t afford to rely on the legibility of employees’ handwriting, or to trust that some labels won’t become unreadable over time.

A more robust approach

Investing in a stock rotation process based on automatically printed labels can remove that risk and help ensure effective, clear and trustworthy food labelling.

A well-designed system built around a robust print solution, such as one of Brother’s food labelling solutions, will let staff produce high-quality labels containing all of the relevant information at the touch of a button.

Containing pre-stored databases of all the possible ingredients that may be used in the kitchen, including allergen data, means the management team have full control of all the correct perishable dates. This means that staff no longer have to check manually for each item or worse, make one up. Clearly this saves significant time and minimises the risk of items being labelled incorrectly.

Printed labels also allow businesses to go beyond the day-dot approach. Date and time stamping the labels adds additional precision to the process. Not only will the day be recorded but also the exact time, meaning chefs can maximise products’ shelf life and reduce unnecessary food waste.

Together, these advantages will mean employees will find it much quicker and easier to label products accurately, helping to ensure compliance with hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) policies and, ultimately, keeping businesses and their customers safe.

Ged Cairns is head of the Auto ID business unit at Brother UK.

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