Food Safety Informatics: A Public Health Imperative

Cynthia A Tucker, Stephanie N Larkin, Timothy A Akers


To date, little has been written about the implementation of utilizing food safety informatics as a technological tool to protect consumers, in real-time, against foodborne illnesses. Food safety outbreaks have become a major public health problem, causing an estimated 48 million illnesses, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Yet, government inspectors/regulators that monitor foodservice operations struggle with how to collect, organize, and analyze data; implement, monitor, and enforce safe food systems. Currently, standardized technologies have not been implemented to efficiently establish “near-in-time” or “just-in-time” electronic awareness to enhance early detection of public health threats regarding food safety. To address the potential impact of collection, organization and analyses of data in a foodservice operation, a wireless food safety informatics (FSI) tool was pilot tested at a university student foodservice center. The technological platform in this test collected data every six minutes over a 24 hour period, across two primary domains: time and temperatures within freezers, walk-in refrigerators and dry storage areas. The results of this pilot study briefly illustrated how technology can assist in food safety surveillance and monitoring by efficiently detecting food safety abnormalities related to time and temperatures so that efficient and proper response in “real time” can be addressed to prevent potential foodborne illnesses.

Key words: foodborne illness, surveillance, technology

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Online Journal of Public Health Informatics * ISSN 1947-2579 *