Steven Burton of Huffington Post Canada writes that with fast food workers trying to unionize to their wages to $15 an hour, some employers are thinking less is more when it comes to staffing and plan to completely automate fast food restaurants. It seems impossible to avoid this future but with all of the outbreaks of foodborne illnesses linked to fast food in the last few years, will these innovations be safer than human prepared food or will we be risking our health more than we already do?
The fast food of the future will involve the customer entering their order into a virtual touchscreen interface. Prices could be a little lower as some of the payroll savings may filter down to the customer (I would not hold my breath about this though).
Once the order is entered and payment received, robotic machines in the kitchen will swing into action: cooking the food and assembling the order, bagging everything, and delivering it hot into your hungry hands.
The technology for this already exists. Burger robots from Momentum Machines have the ability to slice tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and onions right before they are placed on the burger so that they are crisper and more flavourful. The burgers are also freshly ground. The robots then wrap, bag, and send it out to the customer via conveyor to the front.
Unlike their human counterparts your order will be taken correctly every time. It will be filled quickly as these robots work at lightning speed; and because this process does not involve human contact with your food it is less likely to be contaminated. After all, machines do not have hair that can fall in the food or bacteria on their skin like Staphylococcus which can infect food. The best part is that the robot making your food will not have a cold, sneeze on your sandwich, and then wrap it up and hand it to you; as has happened to me on more than one occasion.
A potential food safety issue may arise from the robots’ inability to clean themselves. Human workers will need to be vigilant about cleaning them in order to ensure that they are free of food particles which may grow pathogens.
That tomato may be sliced fresh, but where did it come from and was contamination limited on the farm?
That’s a human decision, and the sooner restaurants and food service start exerting their buying power, the better. Source food from safe sources.