Squadle Is Using the Internet of Things to Help Prevent Food Safety Incidents

Source: BostInno, by Dylan Martin

The last thing a restaurant ever wants is a food safety incident.

As demonstrated by the multiple E. coli and norovirus outbreaks that happened at Chipotle’s restaurants in 2015, it can damage a company’s reputation and its bottom line. More importantly, it’s just not cool to get people sick.

Chicken & Rice Guys, the Boston-based restaurant chain, got a taste of that in April when an E. coli outbreak prompted the company to temporarily shutter three locations and its fleet of food trucks as the city of Boston opened an investigation. About two weeks later, Chicken & Rice Guys was cleared to reopen, and CEO Ian So said at the time that he had hired an outside food consultant to improve its food safety practices.

One of the other ways Chicken & Rice Guys has improved is through Squadle, a Cambridge-based startup that is helping the chain digitize its practices. Most recently, the chain started using the company’s wireless temperature management system for its coolers and Squadle’s digital checklist software to automate the compliance process.

“In today’s complex food chain where food can come from different regions, different suppliers and distributors, technology is a logical step to be able to manage that complexity,” So told BostInno in an email.

Chicken & Rice Guys had already been a customer of Squadle, which aims to digitize many of a restaurant chain’s back-of-house operations, including all the daily paperwork that has to be done on things like employee shifts, amount of cash in the bank and temperature logs. One of the ways Squadle digitizes these processes is through Internet-connected sensors (à la the Internet of Things), including foot traffic trackers, wireless cameras, and the wireless temperature system Chicken & Rice Guys now uses.

Le Zhang, Squadle’s founder and CEO. Photo via LinkedIn.

Le Zhang, founder and CEO of Squadle, said one of the main factors that lead to food safety incidents is the lack of a good system for tracking the temperatures in coolers and other food storage equipment. With Squadle’s wireless temperature sensor, it can track the temperature of a cooler around the clock and provide alerts when the temperature falls out of a certain range because, for instance, someone forgot to close the cooler door. Beyond ensuring that food is safe to eat, it also helps with loss prevention, Zhang said.

Squadle also has a handheld temperature sensor that speeds up the process of checking a food’s temperature while it’s being prepared. When the sensor is measuring a food’s temperature, it sends the information to Squadle’s software on a tablet and then says whether or not it’s within the right range. If it isn’t, the software then provides the restaurant employee with a corrective action for them to take.

Zhang said these things, plus Squadle’s other products, are all meant to help maximize a restaurant’s revenue and minimize its costs. Those things can’t be done, he said if you’re not using a system like Squadle’s to collect data on all of a restaurant’s processes, which then gives managers the information they need to make operational changes.

“Without data, you’re making blind decisions,” he said.

Squadle has 14 employees, and it has raised about $1.2 million from investors to date. Other customers include Sonic, Chick-fil-A and Hyatt.

Dylan Martin