It only took a few health code violations on the same problem for Chris Farrell, general manager for a management company at a New York-based B&I account, to decide to take some action. To combat the health department’s ever-changing rules on cleaning and storing knives, Farrell invented the Smart Bucket, which recently received NSF certification. He spoke to FSD about the process of developing his invention.
“The Smart Bucket is a workstation culinary kit. It cleans and sanitizes knives, but instead of workers cleaning the blades with dirty towels or aprons the product uses a brush and has a compartment to store clean knives. You clean your knife on the bristle brush and it has a removable squeegee that you change every four hours. You wipe the knife on the brush and then the squeegee. So the knife has been cleaned and dried without any risk of cross contamination.
The idea for the Smart Bucket came about because when I was working in Stamford, Conn., we were given a violation for rags and knives in the same bucket. On the way home I thought of a way to fix that problem. It seemed like the rule always changed and we got a violation no matter what we did. Everywhere you went you saw the same problem. Once you become aware of it you see the problem everywhere you go.
So I drew out this idea and went back to a friend of mine who is a retired health inspector and said, ‘I’ve thought of this idea, do you think this could correct the problem?’ He said he didn’t think I had it quite yet, but it was the first item he’d ever seen that came close to addressing this problem. So I kept working on it and bringing it back to him and he’d give me more feedback. Finally, it got to a point where he said it was ready to roll out. I entered it in the 2008 NRA Show smallwares competition and it was chosen as a finalist. But it didn’t get much traction because it wasn’t NSF approved. I continued to work on it and finally in April we got NSF certification.
[The certification was important because] it acts as the best independent auditor for any product in the field. When everyone sees that logo, they know it has been tested and true and does what it claims.
I had no experience in building something like this. When I first drew it on paper I got a provisional patent, which gives you a year to develop it to a point where you sell your idea, give the idea up or pay for the larger patent to protect it. After a year some people said they thought it was worth making the investment to get it patented. It’s patent pending. From there I built prototypes out of traditional buckets, but modified them to create what I thought Smart Bucket should look like. When I finally got to where I needed it to be I went to a manufacturer, which built the mold. Then I added the brush component after figuring out how I was going to clean the knife. The toughest part was trying to figure out how to wipe the knife after it came out of the sanitizer. I had to examine a bunch of different materials [for the squeegee] before NSF finally said they approved.
Sales have been slow. They were good off the shows before we had the NSF certification. I laid low while that process was going on. Now I’m getting ready to go full tilt now that it’s certified.”