Any business that prepares food, or is into agriculture, is subject to regulations and inspections for compliance with the relevant food laws. Inspectors aim to safeguard public health by evaluating the premises, the type of food being made, the work methods, and the food safety management measures in place. They may also check the description of the food on the menu or food labelling for accuracy.
Inspections and licensing of restaurants and grocery stores are typically handled by local and county health departments. However, FDA serves as a scientific and technical consultant to state and local regulatory agencies by publishing the FDA Food Code, which sets forth model provisions for keeping food safe in restaurant, cafeteria, and institutional food operations.
Whereas in the UK and Northern Ireland, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is the major government department responsible for setting standards and regulations related to food and farming industries. DEFRA guidelines call for inspections in establishments that produce and serve food. The nature of the inspection can vary, and the specific inspection activities may include taking samples and photographs of the food, inspecting records, seizing suspect foods, and issue notice seeking specific improvements.
Compliance is a serious business, with non-compliance making the enterprise liable for a criminal offence. Inspectors, responsible for overseeing the compliance of several enterprises are often left hassled trying to track the state of the compliance in so many enterprises, and issuing notices.
An inspection app can make life easy for food inspectors in so many ways. Here are some:
Delivering a checklist of FDA and DEFRA approved requirements through the app allows employees and other stakeholders to indulge in proactive compliance, to accelerate the certification. For instance, the app could issue timely alerts on some of the most common or likely violations, such as improper hot and cold holding temperatures, incorrectly stored equipment, linen or utensils, issues related to cleaning, issues related to plumbing and drainage, incorrect usage of toxic substances, and more. Such alerts help pre-empt the problem or nipping issues in the bud..
An inspection app enables paperless inspection, sparing the need to carry notepads, checklists, forms, sign-off sheets or cameras. The resultant accuracy and reduced paperwork boosts productivity and reduces costs. Data stored in the cloud, accessible from anywhere, by any authorised user, at any time boosts process efficiency in a big way.
Recording the inspection in real-time, leveraging the camera, barcode scanner and other features of the smartphone improves record keeping, helps to highlight issues, and generate detailed reports.
The inspection app can keep track of the instructions issued by the inspector. An intuitive app would generate a checklist based on the compliance requirement, complete with a process flow deadlines, and reminders. For instance, if the inspection discovers an exposed electrical wiring in the kitchen, the app takes a photo, annotate it, and pinpoint the area needing attention. The app then sends out to-do lists, issue timely reminders, and make a follow-up to specific stakeholders responsible for compliance. Each issue could be raised as a ticket and tracked to its logical conclusion, across workflows.
The inspection app could auto-generate forms and checklists based on FDA and DEFRA guidelines, and also for internal audits, sparing valuable times creating the process manually. An intuitive field inspection suite standardise complex forms to make data entry easy and then populate such forms automatically.
The inspection app gives instant visibility and access to all inspection reports and related materials. Such reports offer valuable data, and visualising such data offers scope for improving internal processes, while remaining compliant at the same time. The analytics and reporting capability of the app makes explicit audit summaries, trends, and areas for improvement. It enables taking informed decisions, and tracking the status of safety and quality issues instantly.
In many instances, the establishment would prefer to go in for an appeal against an FDA or DEFRA inspector’s requirements. FDA and DEFRA lay down a formal appeals process, with the establishment encouraged to contact the head of environmental health or trading standards services at the local authority, in a bid to resolve the problem through a meeting. The materials recorded using the inspection app comes in handy to track what exactly took place in the inspection. The app could also draw into the establishment’s database to confirm or refute the charges.
The food inspection app can double up as a good marketing tool as well. Publishing the results of the inscription brings in much-needed transparency into the functioning of the food kitchen, and is the perfect way to assure patrons about the quality of the food and the establishments.
The investment for rolling out an inspection app pays back for itself within a few months, considering the manifold benefits on offer. However, the success of an inspection app depends on a sound design, and how well it is synced with the specific requirements and nature of the establishment. It pays to partner with ReachOut, which has a track record of executing field inspection and auditing app and software for a host of establishments cutting across sectors.
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