One out of every six Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness each year according to the Center for Disease Control. A revolutionary, data-driven approach to inspect restaurants for health violations is helping to take a bite of this number, finding a quarter more violations, days sooner.
Based on proven results in Chicago and Montgomery County, Maryland a new web application, FIVAR (Food Inspection Violations, Anticipating Risk) uses pre-existing municipal open data to prioritize inspections according to risk, evaluate the performance of inspectors, and react in real-time to
foodborne illness outbreaks.
Open Data Nation, the social-benefit company that developed the FIVAR smart-city solution, spoke with 20 public health administrators to get their perspective about how this revolution in food safety might meet their greatest needs. Here are five things that were said most frequently:
|1.||Inspectors are at Capacity: In US cities and counties, it is typically a handful of food safety professionals that are tasked with inspecting their jurisdictions’ tens of thousands of food-preparing establishments each year – from school cafeterias, to assisted living facilities, to fine dining restaurants. On top of the fixed number of inspections mandated each year by code, unanticipated outbreaks and requests for inspections complicate and congest the schedule.|
|2.||Demand for Inspections is Growing: According to the U.S. Census, America’s cities are growing; 12% in the past decade. This growth means more restaurants and more required inspections, but it has not necessarily meant more inspectors to meet the growing demand. Today, food safety teams are looking for creative and efficient ways to keep pace with economic growth.|
|3.||The Industry is Increasingly Complex: Today’s food environment is increasingly complex, and highly skilled and well-trained employees, may still need additional training to keep pace with innovations in equipment and new food preparation techniques as they emerge.|
|4.||Performance Metrics Miss the Mark: Public health professionals today are interested in metrics that measure their progress toward a safer food environment with fewer outbreaks, caught more quickly, and done without having to grow the budget significantly. Managers may be awash in pie charts that compare the number of complete and incomplete inspections and dashboards that count critical health-threatening violations found per day. But these metrics fall short of helping managers pinpoint the riskiest sites and getting to them first.|
|5.||There are Opportunities to Work Sustainably: Public health professionals have a say in the routes inspectors travel, and optimizing inspection routes can reduce unnecessary fuel expenditures, help inspectors spend less time in traffic and more time working directly on public wellness, and provide us cleaner, safer air.|
Food inspectors are dedicated to ensuring public health and safety in the schools our children learn, the facilities where our elders seek care, and restaurants where we dine. Emerging smart solutions like FIVAR, that use data help resolve inspectors’ greatest needs, will reduce the risk of foodborne illness and benefit us all.