MeWe Startup Digitizes Food Safety Inspections For Accuracy, Efficiency

MeWe’s software for safety and compliance checks is in use by government agencies such as the New York State Department of Health.

by Isha Salian and Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle / July 25, 2017

(TNS) -- When a string of food-borne illnesses devastated Chipotle’s reputation in 2015, the phone at San Francisco startup MeWe began ringing off the hook.

It was restaurant owners and brands calling about MeWe’s CoInspect app, which helps government agencies and companies digitize public health and safety inspections. MeWe said its app could help companies avoid a disaster like Chipotle’s.

MeWe CEO and co-founder Manik Suri called the Chipotle outbreak an “aha moment” that inspired the company to refocus the general-purpose inspection app it released in 2014 on the food industry: “Everyone eats, everyone eats out, so food and food safety is critical,” he said.

A few years later, almost 100,000 inspections have been completed using CoInspect. The app allows inspectors to create checklists that include photos and voice memos. Users can also assign inspections, generate reports and analyze trends.

Restaurant chains TGI Fridays and P.F. Chang’s are among those using MeWe’s software for safety and compliance checks. It’s also used by government agencies such as the New York State Department of Health and nonprofits including the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.

After starting in Cambridge, Mass., in 2014, the 18-person company moved to San Francisco a year later. It has raised $3.09 million in funding — most from a seed round announced in February. Suri said MeWe is not yet profitable.

According to Suri, his motivation to improve the “broken workflow” of inspections comes from his experience working in a housing clinic as a Harvard Law School student. He accompanied inspectors as they tagged tenant violations, lugging around clipboards, binders and digital cameras to do so. Creating a single inspection report took about four hours.

With CoInspect, reporting is two to three times faster, Suri said.

CoInspect costs $25 per month for a solo account and $50 per person per month for a professional group of up to 25 people. Prices vary for plans used by large organizations, government agencies and auditing firms, though MeWe did not provide details or a range for the cost.

The company is working on integrating its software with food temperature probes and sensors for equipment monitoring. There’s a test unit in the office refrigerator. The goal, Suri said, is to reduce human error and add a layer of verification that is hard to achieve with paper inspections.

He said the work of conducting safety checks on paper “isn’t being done with thoroughness.”

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.