Food Establishment Virtual Inspection

State: AZ Type: Model Practice Year: 2003

Maricopa County Environmental Health developed an interactive CD-ROM to provide training to inspectors of food establishments. The CD-ROM provides scenarios an Environmental Health Specialist (EHS) may confront in the field and then asks the inspector to evaluate each situation. The program provides instant feedback validating whether inputted information is accurate and explains the rationale for each answer. Running the program requires only a computer equipped with Windows 95 or higher, a CD drive, and sound... The program has been presented to all Maricopa County EHSs and to various other jurisdictions.
Maricopa County Environmental Health covers one of the fastest-growing regions in the nation, with a population in excess of 3,000,000 and over 14,000 food establishments. These establishments are inspected by 49 field EHSs. On average last year, each EHS conducted over 800 inspections of food establishments in his/her district. In addition, the EHSs must inspect swimming pools, public accommodations, trailer parks, school grounds, and pet shops. With a workload of this magnitude and 85 percent of field staff having less than three years of field experience, it is imperative that each EHS be trained thoroughly and efficiently. Developing a virtual inspection program was an innovative way to meet these training needs. In October 2001, Arizona implemented a new food code based upon the 1999 FDA Model Food Code. With this major transition in regulations, it was important that the existing field staff be brought up to speed as quickly as possible. The CD also allowed an EHS and a trainer to talk about the various situations that one might encounter in the field. This conversation can now be held without worrying operators when topics dealing with imminent health hazards occur.
This project was conceived and developed by Maricopa County Environmental Health employees with input from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Arizona Department of Health Services, and the Scottsdale Community College Culinary Arts Program. Environmental Health employees took responsibility for the project, with the other stakeholders providing input as to the relevance of the subject matter and the proper interpretation of the code sections. Scottsdale Community College provided a background for the filming, and culinary arts students participated in the filming. The program was funded through FDA Innovative Food Safety Grant #FD-R-002119-01. Costs were approximately $6,900 for equipment and supplies and $10,000 for the in-house development and programming of the CD. This includes duplication of 1,000 copies for free distribution to other jurisdictions.
The program was developed within with the overall timeline submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The program has been widely distributed to other local and state health departments, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The proposal had five expected results/benefits which are summarized below: Create an interactive CD-ROM that can be used in training new Environmental Health Specialists (EHS). The CD-ROM should present common scenarios that are often seen in the establishment and allow an EHS to assess the food safety system that is in practice. Provide instant feedback, if an EHS missed something prior to going back to the main screen, a summary of what was missed will be presented. Give the advantage of going through an inspection while not in an actual restaurant. This will allow the EHS and trainer to talk freely about other areas that come up without having to worry about offending or scaring the restaurant management. Result in decreased training times, if the EHS has an idea of the situations that they may encounter prior to going into a restaurant then they can start becoming prepared for those situations and be ready to perform inspections on their own. By using Visual Basic to create the program, it can be run on any computer using Windows 95 or higher and that has a CD-ROM drive.
After the initial development, no additional costs have been incurred. If in the future, the division wishes to amend the program with additional segments, it is anticipated that the costs would be minimal. One of the most challenging aspects of this program has been staying on the proposed timeline. It seems there are often other competing priorities that take up the available time. It is important to schedule the dates for the work well in advance and make sure the key individuals are available and willing to participate. A video camera and a computer with a programming language were needed for this project. More important were the personnel requirements: staff with knowledge of how to program, a vision for the project, and support of upper management and the key stakeholders.