A Risk-Based Food Inspection Program

Article excerpt


Public health departments are responsible for ensuring the quality and safety of food provided by food facilities. Because of this responsibility, they need to adequately survey the risks imposed on consumers.

Inspections are an inherent component of surveillance because they have been demonstrated to prevent foodborne illness among consumers of retail food (Allwood, Lee, & Borden-Glass, 1999). Food facility inspections are, however, generally limited to characterizing food safety conditions at the particular time and day of the site evaluation. When inspections are combined with risk assessment, administrators receive value-added information, which promotes efficient use of human resources associated with inspection site visits. Risk assessment procedures take multiple risk factors into account to categorize food facilities by their level of relative risk. This categorization provides a standardized methodology for calculating the ideal number of inspections needed per year and for reducing or increasing individual permit fees according to identified risk levels.

The temporal and spatial variability of health risk factors at food facilities is well understood; thus, industry and governmental agencies have provided guidelines for assessing the most prevalent factors. These guidelines provide structure for inspection procedures. Hazard assessment and critical control point (HACCP) principles often provide the basis for risk-based inspections (Mortimore & Wallace, 1998). According to the definition given in the 2001 Food Code, risk-based inspections have a "jurisdiction prioritized inventory of establishments and set inspection frequency using a hazard assessment" (Food and Drug Administration, 2001).

The Food Code suggests that agencies using risk-based inspections conduct inspections from one to four times per year. Some state and local jurisdictions have elected to incorporate the Food Code's suggestions for risk-based inspections in their entirety. Others, however, have developed their own processes for determining the priority and frequency of inspections. Some local jurisdictions such as Solano County, California, and the city of Plano, Texas, have risk-based inspection protocols that call for one to three inspections per year (Collins, 1995; Solano County, 2001).

A review of published literature reveals that a limited number of health departments have implemented risk-based inspection protocols that have deviated from published FDA processes and procedures. Two studies suggest that one to three inspections should occur each year (Riben et al., 1994; Zaki, Miller, McLaughlin, & Weinberg, 1997). A third study found that increasing the number of inspections from 6 to 12 did not result in increased performance scores (Bader, Blonder, Henriksen, & Strong, 1978). By contrast, a fourth study demonstrated that reducing the number of inspections from four to one per year led to a decrease in scores (Corber, Barton, Nair, & Dulberg, 1984). Because the number of published studies of risk-based inspection programs is limited, this article provides the reader an assessment of existing literature and a possible model for those seeking to include risk in their inspection programs and for agencies that desire to improve their current risk-based food inspection program.


To develop the San Bernardino County risk-based food inspection program, a literature and Internet search was conducted to determine the variables of risk that industry, government, and representative counties and state jurisdictions have considered when developing their respective, risk-based inspection programs. Personal conversations with health specialists at various county public health departments aided in the selection of literature and applicable Web-based Internet resources.


Risk Categorical Systems

Assigning food facilities to risk categories supports prioritization of prevention and control measures. …