CoInspect Collaborative Excellence Blog

4 Reasons American Food Companies Use Pen and Paper as Their Core Safety Technology

Aaron Cohen on Aug 29, 2017 9:41:58 AM
Aaron Cohen


The 5 trillion dollar food industry takes safety exceptionally seriously.  Customer health and safety depend on rigorous, continuous protocols. Mistakes have devastating financial and cultural consequences for these companies.

In order to keep us safe, Food companies rely on pen and paper every day to conduct federally mandated safety and quality inspections. 91% of America’s 300 largest restaurant chains use pen/paper for daily inspections. Based on CoInspect market research, we estimate that 95% of meat processing plants only use pen, paper, and clipboards.  

Here’s why:

  1. Pen and Paper is easy to use.   The number one complaint we hear from the food industry is that software solutions are simply not intuitive enough for their workforce. One prospective customer told us, “Unless it works like an easy mobile app, it won’t get used.”  500,000 people work in meat processing and many of them have not used software in the field.  A fast, simple, intuitive user experience is a need-to-have.   
  2. No WiFi — The country’s vast food supply chain extends to quite rural areas. Often farms and factories don’t even have cellular service let alone WiFi.  While the nation’s restaurants often have better mobile data coverage, many restaurants have not installed WiFi. For software to replace paper, it has to work everywhere that paper works. This means mobile devices that use apps are far preferred to Web applications that require connectivity.  
  3. Pen and Paper is fast — Managers and line cooks are busy. Food Manufacturing requires dozens of daily inspections and quick check marks are simple to make in a hurry. Of course, food operators know very well that those marks are often faked or “pencil whipped” at the end of a shift. But those check marks have sufficed for the purposes of compliance.
  4. They have always used Clipboards — The most ambitious and innovative food executives are fully transparent about the difficulty of change management. They have implemented marketing, point of sale, and dozens of new kitchen technologies, and they know change requires exceptional training and a relentless campaign for employee adoption.  

Thousands of food safety and quality managers do work every day that sits in a file cabinet for three years. Nobody examines the paper. It’s used only if needed for audit information and rarely to extract actionable information. Food companies have been mature low to mid-margin businesses for decades and every category from fast casual pizza to organic baby food is competitive.   

As a new generation of digitally native executives takes over the leadership at food companies, a transformation has begun. These executives require business intelligence based on operational data. Nearly all the paper-based data in the food industry is filed without becoming structured data. Food executives operate without the expected level of business intelligence and are aware of shifting consumer priorities. The American eater is increasingly concerned about the origins of their food.   

Still, the challenge for the technology vendors that design solutions for America’s second largest industry remain daunting. The mandate is clear:

  1. Fast
  2. Intuitive
  3. Easier than pen and paper

Topics: Operations, Quality Assurance, Technology, Compliance, Food Safety, Safety and Quality Inspections