We spoke with Scott McMillan, the former School Nutrition Director of Gridley Unified School District (GUSD), to learn more about his experience using Therma°. McMillan’s responsibilities included coordinating the District’s school nutrition program, planning menus that satisfied nutrition requirements for students, and serving as the School Wellness Policy Administrator. With the help of Therma° sensors identifying a freezer out of temperature range, he caught it just in time to save thousands of dollars worth of food inventory.
McMillan has since moved on from Gridley Unified School District (GUSD), but was gracious enough to spend time with us discussing his appreciation for Therma°. Read on to see the full contents of our Q&A with McMillan below. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
I’ve been in school nutrition about 20 years.
We have to create the menus, make sure the food’s stored properly so the kids are safe, and make sure the lines are running smoothly.
Well, I have a passion for kids and making sure they’re taken care of, and I love feeding them so it’s nice to be there for them.
For me, I can’t say that there are because I love what I do.
I was there for 5 years.
I managed 5 sites overall, and 4 had food service units.
We’ve actually lost inventory across 2 different years because the freezer broke down and we had to do the insurance claims and all of that. So I thought, ok, if we had a way to monitor these, we could at least then try to save the food.
I really liked the simple payment plan, the fact that there was one price for each sensor. And the sensors were easy to install. Therma° just mailed me everything, it was easy to put them in and get them connected to the base units. And there was no wiring to put in, there was no hard wiring to do - it was wireless. So that was nice.
It was really good. What I like is that it saves you from having to do the temperature logs because Therma° does all of that for us. And then, like I said [to Tom, Director of Sales at Therma°], the Friday before Spring Break I got a notification that my freezer temperature was running high, and I was able to go there and find out which freezer was going down. So I got some help, and we emptied that freezer into another freezer and saved thousands of dollars worth of food. So, just that incident easily paid for Therma° for one or two years.
Well, I was sitting at home, and it was the Friday night before Spring Break. The temperature started rising during the day, but I didn't register it because we received an inventory of trucking and were putting stuff away - I just thought maybe it's taking more time to go down. But when I got home and started getting alerts, I went on my phone to look at the trend and could see “Wait a minute, it took off right here, and this is when it started going up and never really dropped back down”. That’s when I knew I needed to go back and take care of it. I ran back down there, and it was my freezer where I had what I call my entrée stuff, the meat items like chicken patties, chicken nuggets, pizzas, and hamburgers.
I estimated it to be about $3,000.
If we came back after break and I found all that food, it would’ve been warm… actually, hot, because that was the week when we had 103 degree temperatures. And not only would we have lost the food in there, but we prep our food the day before and what we do before breaks is everything's panned up on racks. And then we put them in the freezer for when we walk in the door so it’s ready to go. So I would have had a big problem.
Well, all of a sudden, that food is no good and you’re in a panic because somehow you have to go get food because that was what you were going to serve. So now you’re scrambling to try to recover. It’s bad enough we have to lose the money. But the point is, now I don’t have the food that I need to serve to the kids so I also have to scramble at the last minute.
Before I ordered it, I asked IT and once they heard that the sensors didn't need to be a part of the network, they were fine with it. And if they wanted to, they could’ve connected them because there’s a way to put it on the network. But we didn’t need that at the time.
Yeah, because we didn't have to log it all the time. And then even when we saw there might be a problem, we didn't have to constantly go back and look, we could just look on the app. So we could just look and see what's the trend and go into the detail, see the little graph and know that it was okay.
I think it helped us a lot to have the Therma° data in order to see the trends. So if I thought something was going down, I could go online and look. Okay, how long was it? Did it ever go above refrigerator temperatures?
Well, I would go online to check trends but I would really use the app on the phone the most. And then I would get emails saying that my temperature logs were ready so I knew that I could get a month’s worth data or whatever I wanted. But, a lot of times I used the app the most because it was easy to use. My phone’s always with me, and I had the app on my phone so I could easily go to it.
My head cook had the app on her phone. I didn't have her set up to get the alerts, but she had it on her phone just to check temperatures.
I think the alerts are nice. I like the fact that I got texts, so I can go into the app and see what the trend is, and determine if it’s in defrost mode or in a normal range. So I don't necessarily have to react to it at the moment. I could watch it from there to make sure it starts coming back down.
There's more time for my cooks, because when they’d come in for the morning, they’d have to look at the temperature and manually record it on a clipboard. At the end of the day, the same thing. If you notice it was warm, you might say something but then you'll have to go back and watch it. But with Therma° it's being checked every 10 minutes automatically. And you can simply look for the blue dot in the mobile app, which means everything is good and I don’t have any issues.
Well, I felt better knowing that my temperatures were good and I didn't have anything going on. So it made me have a lot less stress because I knew that refrigerators and freezers were fine.
Yes, I think schools will definitely benefit from it. Because restaurants, unlike schools, are open year round. Schools, we close down for a lot of the time during the year like during spring break, winter break and summer break. By having Therma° in there, you know your refrigerators or freezers are still being monitored when you're closed and no one has to go back and check on them.