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Digital vs. Paper Record keeping in a Food Processing Environment

I am often asked by food producers whether they should convert their record-keeping to a digital entry process. I always respond by asking them why do you want to do this?

It seems like a natural change, that adopting digital record keeping in food production is a natural transition as an operation matures.  Actually, digital logs aren’t always better than paper logs.

I implemented a fleet of iPads and digital logs in my own commissary, only to return to pen-and-paper record keeping when I struggled with accountability and completeness.

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Digital Logs:

Pros

  • Can be accessed via tablet in the production space.

  • Updates can be rolled out seamlessly (i.e. sent to the iPad remotely).

  • Past records are accessible anywhere: simply print out a copy.

Cons

  • Technology inevitably gets complicated. iPads must be charged, housed, sterilized, and updated.

  • Missing entries are more difficult to see when records are housed digitally

  • They are easy to fabricate

  • Requires a substantial setup and training to implement

  • Often requires proprietary or expensive software

  • Expensive hardware


Paper Logs:

Pros:

  • They’re stupid simple.

  • They are harder to fabricate and missing entries are easy to spot

  • Simple technology means zero training

  • They are cheap to implement (printer access + clipboards + pencils)

Cons:

  • Paper records can get lost and are lost forever.

  • They require manual updating: printing new sheets and setting them around the production facility.

  • Requires a paper filing system for storage.

So Where Should I start?

Here’s my advice: start with paper logs. They’re easy to implement and will get you into the habit of record keeping. You will probably change the format of your record keeping materials a lot in the beginning: paper will support this. Once you get comfortable with this and missing entries ease to become a problem, you may consider transferring to digital.

The real benefits of digital record keeping goes beyond eliminating paper copies: seamless integration of technology (bluetooth thermometers! WIFI enabled scales!) will bring an unprecedented level of professionalism and ease to your production process. But to start, I recommend keeping it as simple as possible: pencil and paper.