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Bakery Uses Technology to Reinvent the Loaf

Fri, 07/01/2005 - 6:49am
At New French Bakery in Minneapolis, quality has always been the top priority. The company produces authentic German, French and Italian baked goods. Balancing quality requirements with production demands is challenging, but New French Bakery has solved that dilemma by implementing wireless sensors to gather time/temperature data throughout its facility.

"Our breads match the quality of a small corner bakery in Vienna or Berlin," states Imme Fernandez, General Manager. "We just happen to turn out 5,000 loaves every couple of hours." In the bakery, you'll find an array of high tech equipment designed specifically to make quality artisan product, alongside bakers shaping loaves by hand. The company constantly seeks the most efficient way to turn out their uncompromised quality brand.

Founder Peter Kelsey believes that smart technology buys give his company an edge. From the outside, the New French Bakery production facility is unassuming, housed in a converted nightclub near downtown. But inside, baking is streamlined and efficient.

Major accounts demand accountability
As New French Bakery grew, the large foodservice and grocery accounts they acquired required American Institute of Baking accreditation, certifying Good Manufacturing Processes and the standard food industry safety and quality assurance Hazard and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan. "The essential requirement for these accreditation and QC programs is recordkeeping," states Fernandez. "You must prove your process is always in compliance."

The company faced burgeoning growth at the same time they were required to prove standardization. How to turn out more product, add staff, and at the same time record the process more closely? Fernandez automates recordkeeping. For example, one of her early suggestions was automating temperature monitoring. This was because time and temperature not only affect food safety - at a bakery they are also key to quality: the thickness of the crust, the moistness of the crumb, all are linked to specific time and temperature parameters.

The bakery turned to FreshLoc Technologies for help. FreshLoc uses a network of wireless sensors to gather time/temperature data from throughout the New French facility. Using RFID, they transmit continually to strategically placed readers, and the information is then available on the New French Bakery-FreshLoc secure site. If the area under surveillance becomes too warm or cold, alerts are sent to appropriate employees.

Flexible network of sensors installs quickly
Fernandez chose the system because of its flexibility - sensors and readers can be placed and moved easily, and, "the hardware is easy to install, the software is easy to install, and it's easy to teach new users," she explains. Besides ordinary coolers, temperature-critical areas include the proof box: the warm, moist environment where rising occurs, and a blast freezer, which lowers the internal dough temperature to 20°F. The rapid chilldown minimizes water crystallization, which damages the surface and quality of baked goods.

Because New French Bakery likes to ship product that is as fresh as possible, they move product from the blast freezer to a cold pack room. Here, workers package the product in cool 40- to 45-degree temperatures.

One unusual application Fernandez came up with was monitoring her flour silos when they were heated for routine cleaning. "I threw a couple of FreshLoc sensors in the silos, and was able to keep an eye on the whole process from my desk," she explains. "I knew when the temperature got hot enough to exterminate, and we were able to perform that service for ourselves."

Occasionally, New French needs additional temporary cold storage space for a large shipment. Fernandez simply places a FreshLoc sensor in the freezer trailer of an eighteen-wheeler outside in the truck yard, and the system picks up the signal, adding the truck to the company's Cold Chain. "In terms of return on investment, losing one semi full of frozen product could cost twelve thousand dollars," states Fernandez. "This way, the system alerts us if the unit goes out; we know immediately and can save the order intact."

Seeing is believing
Fernandez appreciates being able to check the New French operation anytime. If she gets an alert from FreshLoc at home, she can pull up the website mapview and see details. She also sees tremendous value in the charts that show temperature over time. When the blast freezer "seems off" to an employee, she prints a record of its temperature over the past few days or weeks to prove to the maintenance crew exactly what is happening.
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