Food safety agency slices, dices data

The Agriculture Department is using reporting software to get a hawkeyed view of the nation's poultry, egg and meat processing plants.

Since November, the department's Food Safety and Inspection Service has been using an application from ProClarity Corp. of Boise, Idaho, to give supervisors and other employees quick, detailed information on 6,500 meat, poultry and egg processing plants.

About 300 of the service's employees are using the software, including 150 circuit supervisors, who use ProClarity to create reports and graphs in seconds, said Peter Kuhmerker, director of the service's Field Automation and Information Management Division.

Food inspection programs in 25 states also use the program, he said.

Most of the circuit supervisors do quite a bit of traveling, so they run ProClarity on Gateway Inc. notebook PCs running either Microsoft Windows 95 or XP, Kuhmerker said.

The service uses the software for a multitude of queries, such as identifying plants that have sanitation problems or high levels of noncompliance.

Inspectors are supposed to upload information daily to a database accessible by headquarters, Kuhmerker said. If they don't, the inspectors are listed as 'no feedback.' With ProClarity, the service's managers and supervisors can see quickly who hasn't provided feedback and take steps to improve the level of data reporting by those inspectors.

This performance monitoring capability helped a district office in Albany, N.Y., jump from the third worst district for 'no feedback' reports to the second best. 'So we can improve the quality of our data by looking at the performance of districts and plants,' Kuhmerker said.

The system can create charts instantaneously, he said. 'I'm sitting here, with 39 million observations in the database. While I'm talking, I can call up the number of slaughter plants in noncompliance, broken down into districts. It's that fast. Now I have a chart I can copy, e-mail and put into a Word document.'

The service has gathered all this information for years, 'but you couldn't get to it,' Kuhmerker said. 'We had to go to a programmer for a report. Now anybody who knows how to use Windows can create reports.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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