The Arkansas Health Department has created an online portal for food safety inspection data for the estimated 15,000 retail food establishments.
After about a two-year process of transitioning from a paper to a digital system, individuals may now access recent and past inspections from 15,000 retail food establishments statewide “almost in real time,” said Richard McMullen, associate director of science for the Center for Local Public Health at ADH. Inspection reports can be accessed by establishment name, city, ZIP code, region, date or key word search.
“I’m on Markham Street (in Little Rock) right now, and I could pull up all the restaurants on the street and look at the most recent inspections,” McMullen said.
“Before it was primarily media that accessed this type of information, but now it is very open for anyone with an interest in retail food service. They have access instantly, right there in their hand,” if they are using a mobile device, McMullen said.
The data now goes back about a year, but the plan is to continue logging reports, so individuals will ultimately be able to access years of data through the portal. Access to inspection reports before the implementation of the new system can still be gained by contacting the department, but the reports will not be archived online because of the vast amount of paper documents spread throughout counties statewide, he said. The department conducts hundreds of inspections per week.
In addition to restaurants, the ADH inspects food safety at grocery stores, bakeries, delis, child care centers and schools, convenience stores, hospitals, hotel food service areas, temporary kiosks in shopping centers, food trucks and other eating areas at festivals and fairs, Sherri Woodus, ADH section chief of retail food, said in a Facebook live post demonstrating the portal.
Besides regular routine inspections, ADH provides less frequent reports for complaints, follow-up and pre-opening. In terms of routine inspections, about 600 establishments statewide are classified as high-frequency locations and are inspected three times a year. Close to 4,000 or about one-fourth of the retail food facilities in the state are places that handle only prepackaged food and, therefore, are inspected once a year, Woodus said. However, the majority of the food establishments have routine inspections twice yearly, she said.
ADH worked with the Arkansas Hospitality Association on developing and implementing the new digital system, McMullen said.
Food safety seems to be a top concern for American consumers. Four out of five adults will avoid eating at a restaurant they know had a previous food safety violation, according to a recent Harris Poll sponsored by the international certification agency Bureau Veritas.
About two in five consider a strong food safety track record to be among the most important factors in choosing a restaurant, below quality and price of food, location and recommendations from family and friends, according to the online poll, which was conducted in July and surveyed 2,000 people.