Logo preload
close Logo

The danger of food hygiene inspection backlogs – and how a digital field inspection platform can help

July 7, 2022

By regulating, inspecting, and licensing food providers, local and state health departments ensure the hygiene and safety of the food we eat at all the various points in the supply chain, from distribution centers to grocery stores and restaurants.

Whether inspecting establishments, investigating citizen complaints, or enforcing compliance with sanitation standards, environmental health and safety (EHS) departments are often the first and most important line of defense in preventing dangerous and sometimes fatal outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

However, a worrying impediment to this prevention is putting the public at risk of unsafe food – the quickly growing backlog of food hygiene inspections, not just in the United States, but in many countries across the world. This is a troubling situation on its own, but one that has been dangerously exacerbated by the pandemic.

First looking at the scope, causes, and consequences of this backlog, we’ll then turn to how recent advances in mobile inspection technology have made available the best possible tools to help EHS departments eliminate the growing backlog of food hygiene inspections and eliminate the threat of major public health crises.

‍Food inspection backlog: scope, causes and consequences

Even before the pandemic, the CDC reported in 2020 that foodborne infections were increasing. Despite being preventable through more inspections, foodborne illnesses constitute a major public health challenge, with 48 million foodborne disease illnesses each year, requiring an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and causing 3,000 deaths.

Unfortunately, local and state EHS departments have faced staffing and resource restraints for many years. For example, from 2008 to 2016, local health departments in the US experienced a staffing decline of more than 2,000 full-time environmental health positions.

The recent pandemic has now also worsened the problem. Despite food providers being deemed as essential during the pandemic, many jurisdictions greatly reduced, deferred, or even ceased their food safety inspection operations, either because of limited access or health officers being redirected to COVID enforcement duties.

While a massive labor shortage is also worsening the backlog crisis, even if health departments can find both the financial and human resources to begin tackling the backlog, they will likely rely on new or contract workers who will need more training time to get up to speed.

So with labor issues likely here to stay, food inspection backlogs are poised to grow with it, along with the potential likelihood of major outbreaks of food-borne illnesses.

In the UK, for example, more than 60,000 scheduled food inspections did not happen and more than 50,000 remain outstanding. Or take Baltimore, where city auditors in 2018 said the health department needed at least 40 food safety inspectors to keep up with state standards. As of 2022, only 13 inspector positions are budgeted and there are only 8 inspectors on staff.

Two chefs consulting a tablet while performing food inspections in a commercial kitchen

How Fulcrum can help

Given the potential fallout, number of stakeholders and current state of backlogs, food safety inspections are challenging for any EHS department, but the advent of user-friendly digital inspections platforms offers an affordable and powerful way to quickly collect reliable inspection data and eliminate backlog.

Out of the box, leading platforms like Fulcrum empower inspectors with digital checklists that can be customized by supervisors with accurate inspections procedures, allow all team members to access and update cloud data in real-time, and offer a wide range of options to share the right inspection data with the right people at the right time.

These features make it easy to overcome current major challenges of the food hygiene inspections process, including:


Inspection backlogs almost guarantee that EHS departments will need to either hire new employees, contractors, or temporary workers. As it stands, training new inspectors is already causing inspection deferrals and using up precious time that could otherwise be used for eliminating backlog. Fulcrum’s digital checklists make it easy to onboard new staff, regardless of their experience. Managers can tailor checklists for any food provider, using dropdown menus for clear instructions. Supervisors immediately upload inspection data to the cloud, enabling efficient monitoring of new inspectors’ progress and work quality.

Speed and efficiency

Fulcrum is a one-stop solution to efficiently conduct inspections.
Inspectors collect reliable data on mobile devices, enhancing insights with geolocation data and multimedia like audio and video files. Sharing data in real-time and remotely enables inspectors and supervisors to eliminate travel to the office. This, in turn, lets them focus more on performing inspections efficiently and meeting deadlines.


Internally, Fulcrum unifies inspection teams through a shared tool, ensuring consistent, cloud-connected data usage. This seamless flow of reliable, context-rich information closes information gaps, reducing food inspection delays. External stakeholders can actively collate and analyze inspection data. They can then share this data in various reporting formats with any number of auditors, business owners, or agencies involved.

‍Bon Appétit!

Food inspection involves many parts. Information spreads thinly or gets lost, causing delays and outbreaks. Fulcrum’s digital inspection platform addresses this issue by facilitating data collection, visibility, and sharing. This reduces backlogs, especially during funding and labor shortages, aiding EHS departments in efficient food safety inspections.

Not convinced? Read more about how Fulcrum eliminates inspection backlogs.