Food and lodging inspections are going digital
CLYDE — Haywood County Environmental Services is going digital. As early as next month, food and lodging inspectors with the department will have access to a state-of-the-art system that will cut down their inspection times and provide easy access to inspection reports and data.
“We’re going to a new program that’s more user friendly,” said Garron Bradish, environmental services supervisor.
Bradish submitted the request for an upgrade to the Haywood County Board of Commissioners last December, to “try and get more efficient in our inspections.”
“We were partially staffed for awhile and weren’t getting enough inspections done,” said Bradish.
The new system is a product of Custom Data Processing, Inc., or CDP, which, according to its website, is “a provider of enterprise health systems to federal, state and local health organizations.” CDPims, its food inspection management system, gives health inspectors access to on-demand inspections data, online or offline; provide tools for data analysis, reporting and monitoring; generate electronic field inspection reports and has “robust” security for sensitive data.
This means that inspectors will be able to take a tablet computer and mobile printer with them during inspections, instead of doing everything by hand.
“It’ll help with the time of inspections. The paperwork part of the inspection takes about an hour,” said Bradish. “This (system) will cut that time in half.”
With the extra time, Bradish’s four food and lodging inspectors will be able to perform more inspections. Environmental Services conducts over 1,200 inspections each year at restaurants, tattoo parlors, daycares, swimming pools and etc.
And the cherry on top?
“[CDPims will] actually have the option to have all the inspections on a website,” said Bradish.
Members of the public will be able to go online and look at all food grades in the county.
The county has agreed to pay $13,350 for the first year and $7,800 for each subsequent year, which gives four employees access to the system.
This shift to digital recordkeeping is a much-needed step into the 21st century. Currently, all paperwork is done by hand and kept in an extensive file system in a large room at Environmental Services.
The handwritten records are then entered manually into a program by a third-party company, which is then sent to Raleigh.
Bradish has eight employees handle inspections for the department.
There are 157 sit-down restaurants in Haywood County, not counting food stands or mobile units, which are inspected two to four times a year.
Restaurants that are inspected twice a year include restaurants that serve food that’s ready-to-eat, which isn’t considered potentially hazardous.
“Some of the fast-food places are like that because they’re not doing true cooking,” he said. “They may just be reheating things. So they may be inspected twice a year.”
The most a restaurant can be inspected is four times a year.
“Your farm-to-table restaurants — the fresher and more varied the ingredients, the more inspections you have,” said Bradish. “That’s because you’re handling lots of raw meat, raw fish.”
Inspections are done randomly and at different times of the day. Bradish said an inspector might show up in the morning while restaurant staff are setting up and then later that year conduct an inspection during dinner service.
All are surprise inspections.
“We want to take a picture of what’s going on in that moment of time,” he said. “We’re not out there to try to lower grades or anything like that; it’s what’s there at that moment.”
A typical inspection, one that Bradish calls “easy,” takes two hours. More difficult inspections can take up to four or five hours.
“When they’re doing these inspections, they’re taking notes and then they’re going through and writing down everything they saw on this sheet and mark it,” he said, pointing to an extensive checklist of standards.
The list covers every conceivable aspect of kitchen management. From the personal dress and hygiene of kitchen and wait staff to pest control to the temperature of cross contamination procedures, no stone is left unturned.
“One of the most important things with doing these inspections now is checking the food temperature,” said Bradish. “We check final cooked temperatures to make sure everything is cooked right, and things that are held in refrigeration to be sure they’re being kept cool enough.”
Temperature inspections include proper cool-down procedure, thawing techniques, temperature control for potentially hazardous foods, making sure equipment keeps food at safe temperatures, adequate cooking temperatures and more.
“We don’t try to just be regulators [when it comes to inspections]. We try to be more educators because we want our restaurants to do well and succeed,” said Bradish. “Tourism is a big part of this county, so we’re more trying to help these restaurants and say ‘Look you got these problems; here’s what it’s going to take to get it fixed.”
Additionally, Bradish said that if a new restaurant wants to open in the county, Environmental Services does a plan review — inspectors get the blueprints of the kitchen and the layout of the building and makes sure everything is where it’s supposed to be.
“We’re looking more for safety type things, like hand-washing stations,” he said. “Where you’re preparing food, that the hand-washing sink accessible. If you’re handling raw chicken, can you go over and wash your hands before doing anything else?”