Laptops play part in food safety home page

The Agriculture Department's Food Safety and Inspection Service has equipped

all its food inspectors with laptop or desktop computers to keep vital information

at their fingertips.

The final computer in the Field Automation and Information Management

initiative was delivered last month to a food inspector in Cedar City, Utah.

That means every inspector has access to one of 4,000 computers, enabling

them to have faster access to laboratory results about contamination and

other food safety information.

"Now they have access to all of this on a computer," said Peter Kuhmerker,

deputy director of the FAIM division. In the past, he said, inspectors had

dozens of notebooks that they had to leaf through page after page to find


USDA started the project five years ago. Most of the computers are laptops,

but some are desktops installed permanently at sites that are inspected

regularly, such as Purdue Farms Inc. poultry facilities.

In addition to connecting inspectors to a USDA database, the computers

will link every inspector to headquarters via e-mail, the first time they

will be linked electronically instead of having to play phone tag every


"I think that anything that we can do to increase the accountability

from gate to plate or dirt to dessert, we ought to be doing," said Warren

Clark, chief executive officer of Clark Consulting International Inc., a

consulting company based outside Chicago that helps farmers adapt to the

world of e-business.


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