El Paso County Fights Food Poisoning with Data

The Colorado County Uses Accela for Environmental Health to Inform Residents About High Risk Restaurants and Spot Food Inspections Issues

(Alpha / Flickr)

Whether it’s craft beer at Oskar Blues, rigatoni at Red Gravy or gluten-free sweets at Coquette’s Bistro and Bakery, the cooks in Colorado Springs have a dish for almost any visitor. Yet with roughly 23 million tourists visiting the mountain town each year, food inspectors have made safety a top priority by using smart city tools like data analytics and mobile technologies to monitor compliance.

Sitting near famous outdoor sites like Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods National Natural Landmark Park, Colorado Springs is one of eight cities and towns using the smart city technologies from the El Paso County Environmental Health Division. In 2012, the division chose Accela to modernize its aging permitting, licensing and inspection system. This equipped field inspectors with an app to complete inspections on a mobile device in the field. The new technology consolidated multiple inspections in one visit. Further, additional services provided by health specialists automatically generated a report for billing and compliance alerts.

Pike's Peak“It did increase efficiency quickly, right out of the chute, and that eliminated duplicate entry — entering data once in a paper form and then again digitally,” said Tom Gonzales, El Paso County’s Director of Environmental Health. “Now it’s all online and it has increased efficiency by more than 30 percent — just from eliminating duplicate data entry alone.”

Since implementation, Gonzales said this efficiency increase has held steady. What’s more, it has yielded additional benefits in transparency for residents who now have 24/7 access to restaurant inspection ratings as they are recorded by county inspectors. Gonzales said the county receives fewer calls from residents, reporters and businesses seeking this information, something he believes points to a public that is more informed about food safety.

“We didn’t have that granularity before, so now folks can determine for themselves the risk of eating at any establishment.”

Beyond transparency, the food inspection system has aided county staff in identifying trending compliance issues.

“Accela provides a level of data that we can have our hands on at all times,” Gonzales said. “My food inspection managers can see what is trending. They can ask what is the number one violation we’re seeing, and then make plans for how to address that through education and outreach,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales said the modernization has empowered inspectors to spend more time in the field and less time behind a desk. Previously, staff struggled with legacy systems that made data analysis and decision making difficult. Critical information on services, finance, customer fees and other important issues was hard to decipher due to disparate data systems. Since the implementation, Gonzales said he can get details on nearly every aspect of operations: time spent on tasks, the number of active food establishments, those with current violations, and a host of other beneficial data.

“This is absolutely critical, and not just for food inspections, but across all of our environmental health services,” Gonzales said.

For more details on Accela’s Civic Solution for Environmental Health click here.

About The Author / Accela

Since 1999 Accela has provided market-leading software solutions that empower state and local governments worldwide to build thriving communities, attract and grow businesses, and protect citizens. From planning, building, licensing and permitting, to asset and service request management, finance, environmental health and more, Accela’s SaaS offerings are designed to readily solve government’s biggest challenges with extensive domain expertise built into every solution. Powered by Microsoft Azure, Accela’s open and flexible workflow automation technology helps agencies address specific constituent needs today, while ensuring they are prepared for any emerging or complicated challenges in the future. Accela’s solutions serve more than 80 percent of America’s largest cities. Accela is headquartered in San Ramon, California, with additional offices around the world.

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