Rosalinda Cerna, MPH, CP-FS, EHS
Environmental Health and Safety Manager, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services
It is estimated each year that one in six visitors to a food establishment — 48 million people — will become sick from a foodborne illness in the United States. Each year, 28,000 people end up hospitalized and the annual cost of foodborne illness is around $152 million. With recent events at Chipotle, Blue Bell, and Dole Foods amongst others, food safety has become a very high profile issue. The growing cost and risks around foodborne illness-related incidents has led the food industry to seek out more effective ways of approaching food safety.
Logs and check lists are the primary tools used to monitor critical control points and document food safety system controls. Accurate and timely documentation is crucial to a successful food safety plan. A basic requirement for any food safety program is to have audit and log checks performed at regular 3-4 hour intervals every day. This practice proves vital during litigation: it demonstrates an organization’s due diligence and compliance with industry best practices. Providing staff with the proper tools and resources to take the necessary preventative steps, and creating easy and accurate ways to document and store vital information can save an organization thousands of dollars in litigation costs.
Mobile technology is playing a critical role in helping companies to preserve the integrity and confidentiality of their records, and enabling them to produce records in an appropriate and timely manner. Mobile software supports three common elements of compliance: (1) Data Integrity, (2) Data Confidentiality and (3) Data Accessibility.
- Data Integrity: Digital checklists can be tracked in real time which ensure accurate and valid documentation and safeguards against inappropriate alteration, damage or deleted information. Standardization of food safety practices can be documented to prove consistent performance amongst staff throughout an organization.
- Data Confidentiality/Security: Once an organization becomes aware of a claim, it is important to maintain all records relevant to the situation. Depending on the jurisdiction, a person could potentially have up to four to five years to file a lawsuit. Storing documentation digitally will allow only authorized users to access information.
- Data Accessibility: Using technology to store checklists, logs and other food safety documentation makes data more easily accessible. This will make it easier to create reports and identify patterns or critical issues within food production. Information can be shared easily within organizations that have multiple facilities.
Foodborne illness claims do not always equate to liability. Providing insurance companies or attorneys with thorough documentation of an incident will not only support and strengthen the defense, but will allow organizations to experience less disruption to normal business operations if a claim is filed. As with any lawsuit, defending against a negligence claim can be costly and time consuming. However, using food safety technology such as digital logs or checklist can help reduce a company’s liability and prove their commitment to creating a food safety culture based on best practices.