New Module from Esri Takes Aim at Foodborne Illnesses

The innovative health team over at ESRI, recently revamped their restaurant inspection module to help public health agencies tackle the challenge of foodborne illness in the United States. With the new module, cities and counties can prioritize facilities most in need of inspection as well as optimize the route taken by inspectors – something that was done previously by gut feel.

According to the CDC, roughly 1 in 5 Americans (48 million people) get sick each year from foodborne illnesses leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Preventing foodborne illness is the responsibility of three government bodies:

  1. US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, responsible for the meat, poultry and processed egg supply
  2. US Food and Drug Administration, responsible for domestic and imported foods
  3. City/County Governments, responsible for restaurant safety inspections

All three of these government entities face a lack of budget and are in chronic need of additional personnel. By necessity, they must be judicious in how they use their precious resources.

City and county governments in large and growing regions are particularly challenged given the number of restaurants and food-service locations they are responsible for inspecting. In addition, there are a growing number of brick-and-mortar alternatives gaining popularity that need to be inspected: food trucks, pop-up food stands and lunch counters within high-end grocery stores. As a result, local governments must find ways to better plan and mobilize their teams of inspectors.

That’s where ESRI’s new restaurant inspection module comes in. It’s designed to help local governments for four key aspects:

  1. Planning
  2. Decision Support
  3. Field Mobility
  4. Monitoring and Evaluation


The ability to design efficient inspection territories is key to improving the throughput and effectiveness of inspectors. Using ESRI’s module, planners can create territories that factor in not just travel distances, but also the number of facilities within the territory that need to be inspected.

Through ESRI’s visual interface, a planner can easily see the location of every restaurant in the region (if integrated with the city’s permits department). This makes it easy for planners to create territories that are more optimal for inspectors.

Decision Support                  

In an ideal world, cities would have enough resources to inspect all restaurant locations on a regular basis. However, cities are so understaffed that inspectors can only get to a fraction of the places they need to see.

With ESRI’s module, inspectors can leverage simple data surveillance and artificial intelligence to identify high-priority places to inspect. The module looks at the inbound complaints received by the city from citizens who noted something “wrong” with a food-service facility. The quantity and severity of public complaints is one factor that can used by the module to help decide which facilities to prioritize.

“In our machine learning model to predict higher risk restaurants, we used a number of variables,” explains Este Geraghty, Chief Medical Officer and Health Solutions Director at Esri. “We used: date of last inspection, inspection frequency, median year the structure was built, the percent of vacant housing units in the area, the median household income, the average spend on alcoholic beverages away from home. This alone provides a good estimate. Other variables that could be useful that we want to incorporate are: last 3 days of average temperature, garbage complaints, rodent complaints.”


Based on the variables, the Esri module sorts restaurant locations into three categories:

  1. Likely to fail
  2. Likely to pass with conditions
  3. Likely to pass

Locations in category 1 and 2 would receive higher priority and would ideally be scheduled earlier on an inspector’s daily list – which according to a Harvard Business School study, yields better results from a public safety perspective.

Field Mobility

Once the prioritized list of inspection locations has been identified, Esri’s robust Geographic Information System (GIS) capabilities can optimize route planning in order to minimize the travel distances and times between inspections. It can also use real-time location information (from a smartphone or other device) to automatically direct the inspector to their next inspection without the need to look up and enter an address.

Esri is currently partnering with key clients to refine a mobile app specifically for restaurant and food service inspections, one where pictures, commentary and notes can be recorded easily by the inspector. Once a report is filed within the app, it would appear right away on a dashboard at the city where administrators can monitor progress in real-time.

Monitoring and Evaluation

By using Esri’s module, cities would have a rich set of data to use for further analysis and evaluation:

  • Routing data and inspection results would feed into the predictive prioritization algorithm
  • Real-time location information could be used to monitor the safety of the city’s mobile workforce and adjustments can be made based on last-minute information (outbreak) and traffic patterns
  • Productivity information could even be used to help the budgeting and hiring processes

Key Benefits

“The key benefit to cities and the public is, of course, safer communities and a decrease in foodborne illnesses,” said Geraghty. “With Esri’s platform, cities and their inspection teams can optimize the use of existing inspectors and increase the chance of finding non-compliant locations. They can also be more responsive to citizen requests and be more transparent with their communities by making this inspection data available via their website.”

About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.