When Jim Blum founded Blackhawk Specialty Foods in 1992, he was no stranger to systems and living by regulations. A retired technical sergeant who served in the United States Air Force for more than 14 years, Blum brought do-it-by-the-book processes to bear on every aspect of his USDA-inspected specialty food store and processing areas. In Western Pennsylvania, Blackhawk Specialty Foods’ reputation quickly grew as the place to go for fresh and cured meat products, deer processing, catering, bakery goods, and some groceries, too. To open with fresh product by 5 a.m., Blum and his team begin work in the smokehouse each midnight, and until recently, paid $50.04/hour required by USDA’s 9 CFR for an overtime certified inspector to work the same midnight shift.
But, there had to be a better way to baby-sit this process. Blum looked for a technology solution and found the Dickson Wireless Wizard, a wireless temperature data logger that features both a signal sensor for continuous network monitoring and nine-day data storage backup to make data monitoring failsafe. Blackhawk uses this wireless data logger in its smokehouse and in the cooler, or more accurately, in the product being cooked. Because it’s wireless and doesn’t require any data downloading, Blum is able to monitor minute-by-minute temperature data when he is in the store, without stepping into the inspected area. Not having to download recorded data manually saves many hundreds of staff hours each year.
Also, the continuous data recording by this wireless data logger is acceptable to the USDA as an alternative to the on-site inspector. By eliminating the need for the inspector, Blum estimates, “The wireless data logger, which costs only a few hundred dollars, paid for itself within the first few days of its operation.”
Monitoring temperatures is no small matter to Blackhawk. Appendix A and B of the FDA Food Code, and adopted by the state of Pennsylvania, specifies the maximum temperatures and hold time for cooking, as well as the temperatures required for chilling and the time required to reach chilling temperatures. Minute-by-minute data is very useful to Blackhawk because product quality can be significantly affected without rapid information on temperatures. If temperatures get too high, the product quality suffers; if temperatures are too low, or if it takes too long to reach chilling temperature, the product is condemned. The data logger signals an alarm when temperatures are at critical points. Blum knows from experience when temperatures are getting out-of-range and keeps an eye out for the desktop alarm before it comes.
For more information: Chris Sorensen,