Technology is coming for restaurants' health and safety measures

PathSpot, which invented a scanner that determines the effectiveness of hand-washing, now plans to digitize health procedures.
The PathSpot hand scanner can determine whether a restaurant worker has properly washed their hands. | Photo courtesy of PathSpot.

Technology is playing a greater role at U.S. restaurants and now it’s coming for their health and safety protocols.

PathSpot, created in 2017 after developing a scanner that detects whether workers washed their hands effectively or not, is now digitizing the manual health and safety procedures restaurants must go through to prevent foodborne illness.

“Food safety is a real bonding point in the restaurant industry,” Christine Schindler, who founded PathSpot, said in an interview. “Everyone has to do it. Some may have to do more than others. But all of them have the same critical compliance efforts.”

Schindler came to the business through somewhat unconventional means. She has a background in biomedical engineering and global health and worked in Africa on early detection of cancer. She then returned to the U.S., to work in hospitals and health care companies, focused on health disparities.

Eventually, Schindler came to realize that the biggest factor—by far—in foodborne illness outbreaks is handwashing. “Nine out of 10 outbreaks are directly related to poor handwashing practices,” she said, quoting data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Yet the only things being done were signs in the bathroom saying, ‘Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.’”

Schindler then went to work to develop and patent a device that would scan workers’ hands to determine if they had washed their hands well enough. The hand scanner can be installed next to a sink. Workers place their hands under the scanner, and a screen on top of the device tells them if they need to return to the sink.

The device collects data, and for chains sends that information to corporate headquarters, where they see which locations do a better job of hand-washing.

It’s not as easy as it seems.

The company said that early on, 75% of employees fail the hand scan the first time. After a few weeks of training, however, that percentage drops to 5%.

“Most people are going to fail a scan,” Schindler said. “If you can’t smell it, feel it, taste it, you don’t know it’s there.”

“This elevates hand washing into a holistic part of the health-and-safety process,” she added.

But this is also an era in which technology is being used to simplify all kinds of processes in the restaurant, to both improve results and increase efficiency. And given the recent pandemic, it was probably inevitable that tech companies would take their shot at digitizing health processes.

So, PathSpot is now expanding its offerings to include digitized health and safety procedures. The company will now offer restaurant companies tools to ensure that food isn’t on the shelf too long, that cooling is done correctly, that storage temperatures are right and other issues.

The idea is to simplify those processes to ensure they get done while providing companies with tools to determine the restaurants that perform better on the health and safety front. “We’re giving team members tools that not only enhance safety, it amplifies it across the board," she noted.

The pandemic focused considerable attention on the importance of health and safety on the restaurant business, both among consumers and workers. Employees are often the ones demanding these tools because, after all, most of them would prefer not getting sick.

And there are some real benefits in improving the effectiveness of health and safety protocols. There are fewer callouts if workers are getting sick less often. But a foodborne illness outbreak or a failed health audit can have a major impact on a restaurant.

There are also other benefits, too.

“The big risk is a failed audit, a shutdown store, an outbreak or customer and employee complaints, and we’re committed to eliminating the big risk,” Schindler said. “But there are so many [return-on-investment] components to this, the largest being labor. The labor going into this is honestly astronomical.”

And then there is consumer demand. Customers want their restaurants to be cleaner, and in a post-pandemic environment they are demanding it.

“Cleanliness is the new ambiance,” Schindler said. "People are looking for and having an expectation of cleanliness for any sort of business.”

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