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Taste is subjective, hygiene is not

Ramkumar Rajaram, VP – Operations, CRCL LLP

CRCL LLP is a Chennai-based food services company with a presence in seven states. With a staff of over 3,000 people, it currently caters around 2,25,000 meals every day. In this interview, Ramkumar Rajaram, VP – Operations, CRCL LLP talks about the before and after of hand hygiene, fresh produce disinfection, surface disinfection and footwear sanitisation, with the introduction of MicroGO’s solutions as the turning point.

Why is hygiene of particular importance in industrial kitchens?

Our kitchens can produce anything between 500 to 50,000 meals a day; we have never had a case of food poisoning, but that doesn’t mean we will always remain safe. Microorganisms are invisible, which is why they are a risk that not everyone remembers to take seriously.

Not all food is prepared hot. Chutneys, for example, are prepared at room temperature, and are transported alongside hot food from our central kitchens; there is no separate infrastructure for their transport. The shelf life of a chutney at ambient temperatures is a few hours at best; even if the chutney was prepared at 5 am, the person having it with breakfast at 9 am should find it fresh. For this, microbial growth needs to be controlled.

Has there been a sudden focus on hygiene in industrial kitchens?

Earlier, clients were interested only in the quality and taste of food. Today, these go hand in hand with food hygiene. This is non-negotiable, and there is zero tolerance for lacunae, at any site or in any state.

This is one of the reasons we joined hands with MicroGO; we wanted a proper roadmap for food hygiene. We have been associated with them for the past two years.

Our emphasis on food safety becomes a selling point for our business as well. In a few years from now, I expect it to become a mandatory requirement. We decide to make it part of our system before it becomes a mandate, by making it a habit.

What is the reason behind the shift to digitalised solutions?

From caterers to clients, everyone talks a lot about hygiene, but no one has the infrastructure to ensure it. Along with MicroGO, we have been trying to convince clients about the need for more sophisticated solutions.

Currently, most hygiene efforts are manual. We wanted to have a solution that is digitalised and IoT-enabled, which gives us real-time data so that there is no manipulation of any food safety standard. At the end of the day, we want to walk the talk.

How have your hand hygiene efforts paid off?

Earlier, we used to have an alarm bell which would ring at regular intervals, that would alert kitchen staff to perform hand sanitisation and come back to work. This was more of a gimmick because very few people followed it rigorously.

With MicroGO’s IoT-enabled solution, we are able to monitor exactly how many people have actually sanitised their hands before they start their work. During the course of an eight-hour shift, we ensure that each employee sanitises their hands at least four times; we have real-time data with us.

Unless hand sanitisation is performed the requisite number of times by each member, the report remains incomplete. The system tracks the entire process; if even one person does not follow it, we can track who that person is.

We used to have a hand sanitisation compliance rate of just 20-30%. With MicroGO’s solution, we have reached around 85%. Our target is to always be above 90%.

What else does the system track?

Water is a precious resource, the system we use also calculates how many litres of water are being saved with this solution. This is available in the form of a report.

How is employee footwear being sanitised?

Earlier, when employees had to use the washroom, they had to change out of their safety shoes, wear special footwear, use the washroom, and change back into the safety shoes, or wear a shoe cover. This wasn’t very practical.

MicroGO has provided us with a solution in which footwear is dipped to be sanitised; the floor doesn’t get contaminated either.

How is fresh produce being made hygienic?

Fresh produce used in salads is not cooked, but needs to be made hygienic before consumption. We now use a chlorine dioxide-based solution which is prepared at the site, and is much more effective than the chlorine tablets we used to use earlier.

How would you analyse the new solution from a cost point of view?

The best part is that MicroGO’s solution is not expensive. We spend 1-1.5% of our revenue on hygiene; this is very affordable and well worth it.

How has the overall hygiene compliance changed for the better?

Earlier, surface cleaning was done with chlorinated tablets, which release chlorine that leaves a residue. Now, we use MicroGO’s chlorine dioxide based product, which is hassle-free and 100% safe.

The MicroGO team has been very consistent in meeting the project managers at the site-level and educating them on how to use the system.

We have successfully installed the system in our own central kitchens, and at five client sites. The clients are impressed with the results; now it’s time to take it to more sites.

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