Tech Startup Helps Retailers Stay ‘Alert’ with Food Safety
Several product recalls rocked the foodservice industry last year, throwing food safety to the top of both consumers’ and operators’ minds. The recent passage of the FDA Modernization Act, which gives more power to the FDA in recalling foods, further reminded the industry that food safety compliance is a priority for any foodservice retailer.
One tech startup wants to ease the concerns of those retailers by streamlining their food safety compliance process.
Bill Pappas, CEO of North Carolina–based startup Alert, says his company’s system removes all of the manual processes—including spreadsheets, PDFs, and e-mails—used to confirm the safety of food by automating the entire compliance system.
“What we’re doing with Alert is connecting foodservice retailers directly with laboratories electronically, and they can put up a safety hub and put it in between themselves and their suppliers,” Pappas says. “They can tell their suppliers, ‘Hey, if you want to supply for us, we have food safety processes that we want to implement. To do that we want you to go through this hub.’”
The compliance process through Alert, Pappas says, goes like this: A supplier accesses, via a Web browser, the Alert food safety hub set up by the retailer and notes that they would like to have a test done of their product. The supplier then sends the product in to a lab, which has been informed by Alert of the incoming product. The lab tests the product and sends the results to the Alert hub, which analyzes the data and reports back to the retailer, alerting of any kind of safety issues.
“Today, in talking to [retailers], their margins are low; they can’t add head count to spend time doing a lot of manual processes,” Pappas says. “So we take a very complex process and we simplify it.”
Pappas says quick serves must remove tainted food from the supply chain before it ever hits stores, rather than risk having to remove it through a recall process. He says foodservice retailers stand to gain the most from a system like Alert.
“The food retailer, I think, has to initiate a hub, and they have to mandate the processes that are followed, what tests are run,” he says. “They’re the ones that are needing to protect the food because they’re the ones that are going to take the blame [of any recall].”
Alert, which is owned by Delta Technology & Software, has a 15-member industry advisory board made up of c-level executives who are helping the startup construct and perfect its model.
Pappas says Alert doesn’t just help foodservice retailers avoid any costly recall situations—it can also help a company have a firmer understanding of the ins and outs of their entire supply chain.
“For the [quick serves], those kinds of companies over time will build an interesting amount of data within the hub that they can then do analytics about,” he says. “They can analyze how well these processes are being followed by their suppliers, they can look for trends—maybe it’s in produce and they’re concerned about some new chemical out there to keep whatever kind of bug off lettuce and … if it’s being used properly. They’ll be able to easily analyze that in here. I dare them to do that with PDFs.”