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Can Digital Pre-Audit Forms Improve Food Safety?

Updated: Jan 4, 2023

Gerry Skews 3/1/23

The hypothesis is that by using an online food safety Questionnaire it is possible to not only obtain key information for internal or external inspection agencies but also use "indirect data" to dervive additional information that could help identify locations that need additional help.

The basic concept

A digital questionnaire is used to obtain important information about food safety quickly and accurately. It also alerts the recipient to the fact that a mandated inspection is due and, thirdly it reminds recipients of their legal obligations in a clear and concise manner.

Using data from the form such as timing and error tracking it lets the inspector know if there is an issue with process or training. For example in answer to the question do you keep temperature records ? the answer "NO" should send a big red flag up.

What I am really advocating here is a smart form, one in which questions are structured to provide more information than appears on the surface.

An example is given here of a level 1 Inspection aimed at pubs, hotels, restaurants, burger vans, and retail outlets that offer food to the public. More complicated and detailed forms can be easily developed for advanced food inspections. #foodsafety, #smartforms, #eho, #foodinspections,

Smart form development

“We are definitely not trying to trick recipients here, we are trying to use intelligent questioning, anyone who knows food safety regulations will be able to complete the form quickly and easily.”
  • Start with simple questions of discovery

  • Move on to simple questions of competence

  • Summarise the equipment, process and purpose of the food production area

  • Understand how well the food production area is run

  • Derive a measurement of risk to allow sensible use of resources.

  • Choose the level of advice intervention

Questions of Discovery

Validate respondent

Validate location

Set form completion to be a priority task

Questions of Competence

Basic information about the training / qualifications of the respondent

Questions about the location & products

Basic Physical Properties

Type of food (particularly Protein) on site

Equipment and state of the equipment in use

Summary of food storage and preparation

Derived Information

Using the minimum number of responses develop a risk profile

Using the risk profile to assist the food inspector in making appropriate decisions

Using "Branching" in Forms

Smart forms offer the possibility of branching to other questions in response to specific answers, this is particularly useful when trying to get to root data. For Example, "Do you have a temperature log?"

if "NO" then make the statement "It is a legal responsibility to record temperatures"

if "YES" then "Please upload image of the last 7 days readings"

If it takes 2 hours to photograph the temperature log or uplad the data then it is clear that the information is not accessible and this could be a problem that could be fixed easily and cheaply

This approach to building forms is derived, in part, from workflow analysis where IF THEN branches are used to move information from "state to state"

There follows an example of a branching smart form

This is a live form link to allow the reader to experience the form as a user, subsequently there is an explanation of the principle components of the form.

This example is deployed as an "online form" however it can be deployed in several ways as outlined later.

The deployment in this model uses several "sub forms" to make it easier for the respondent to complete the information, it also employs a "Save" option at the end of each section to allow the user to pause as they progress through the document.

It's probably advisable to ask the respondent to allocate an amount of time to a) collect the data thats required and b) complete the form at a time and place that allows them thinking time. The whole form should only take 10 minutes to complete.

Detailed Anatomy of a Branching Smart Form

Section 1

Discovery. Name & Contact Details

Validation. Format Checking

Priority Trigger. Time Critical Form

Branch. Show Notes. Opens a note section explaining Time Critical Form.

A fast way to get food safety data to regulatory bodies

Section 2

Discovery. Location & Availability

Validation. Format Check

Priority Trigger. Opening Hours set to mandated field

Branch. None.

Software to help regulatory audits

Section 3

Discovery. Products and associated risks

Validation. Any fields can be mandated

Priority Trigger. Time it takes to fill in form

Branch. Typically it could branch to "next" if location only sells cold food to take away

Smart Forms in Food Safety

Section 4

Discovery. Equipment on Site

Validation. Any fields can be mandated

Priority Trigger. Time it takes to fill in form

Branch. Typically it could branch to "other" for a Deeper Dive.

Gathering Data for Food Safety and Risk Analysis

Section 5


Validation. Yes or No... Significant implications of answering these questions quickly and accurately

Priority Trigger. If the Questionnaire is paused for a couple of days you can bet your bottom dollar the cleaning records arte not up to date.

Branch. A Risk Alert would be triggered if the "NO" answer was sent to the Inspector.

Remote Food Safety Audits using Mobile Apps

Section 6


Validation. As for Step 5

Priority Trigger. As for Step 5

Branch. As for Step 5

Food Safety - Uploading Temperature Records Remotely

Section 7

Discovery. If the working area is not clean then there may be a delay in submitting this data

Validation. The take photo option recoords the time of the image

Priority Trigger. Time taken to complete the form

Branch. Probably not required at this step.

Uploading Food Safety Data (Images) Arbite Software

Section 8

Discovery. Staff Training & Competences

Validation. Mandated field stops form progression

Priority Trigger. If NO staff training done then there is a point to address

Branch. If Yes to Staff Training records branch to "Details"

Software to upload data using branching techniques

Section 9

Discovery. Legal Declaration

Validation. MUST Agree and Sign the form. The system records the IP address and potentially the location on signing (asumes permission is given by respondent)

Priority Trigger. No submission without agreement

Branch. Could branch to a Score Page or Advisory Note, or a Thank You Page.

Declaration of Data Submission Food Safety
Confidentiality and encryption

It is extremely important that confidentiality is preserved at all levels of this process which is why various deployment models are proposed and available. Firstly all data in the forms can be end to end encrypted using secure socket layer (SSL) encryption. This protects the audit authority and the respondent and their organisation. All parties must be advised of the data handling standards under the GD

Confidentiality and Encryption in Food Safety

PR (General Data Protection Rules). This is a fundamental human right of privacy. This is why some care needs to be give to where the data is held and how its held,.

Deployment Models

There are seveal options for deployment for this. If the customer prefers to download an app on their smart phone then this can be allowed providing the correct permission are obtained and the user is aware of the implications of storing their information on their own device.

Another deployment option would be to hold the application on a secure 3rd party server and allow the user and the administrator to access it with the appropriate account log ins and password authentication. A third option would be to Allow Arbite to operate and maintain the whole system such that the user receives a link from the authority to log on to the system, the data is sent to Arbite and automatically routed to the authority. The forms can either be received as complete PDF files or as spreadsheet files. Direct transfer of raw data could be done via an API BUT this may well expose the authorty to unacceptable risk, so a third party host may be the best option assuming GDPR can apply.


The forms sofwtare has a built in translator that make an attempt to translate the questions into a recipients language, HOWEVER it is important the authority and the analyst / inspector understands the form, and while most of the forms are logic or boolean some rely on text which needs to be accuratley interpreted to obviate risk of liability. In this example we have added a French Translator to demonstrate.

Receipt & Analyisis

However the data is received by the auditor / inspector there needs to be a physical interpretation for mittigation of risk and liability. We are developing methods of filtering the inbound information using simple AI techniques but presently we suggest that the data comes in via a PDF or Secure PDF file and can then be checked and attached to the producers record.

Developing other forms

The basic forms are developed using a simple iterative (agile) process. A working form is gernerally produced within a few days of starting the project. This is then circulated (posted) with a given "Respond By" date by the project coordinator. Following final iteration the form is signed off and then deployed. The form shown here is a generic Information gathering form typically used by EHO food safety inspectors for level 1 inspections. More specific and detailed discovery forms can be developed and deployed. This is particularly useful when working with FSA on specific local projects but equally could be deployed by central food safety auditors operating multi site venues across the country or around the world.


Clearly cost of product depends upon several key factors, but consulting and development of smart forms is normally between £2,000 & £3,000 and will take 2 - 3 weeks to complete. Deployment on a secure server normally costs around £500 and subscription is based on the number of forms processed per month but typicaly £1 per submission

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