A study of food safety inspections performed by environmental health practitioners (EHPs) in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Ireland, and the U.S. has identified and described a common approach across countries. The study was conducted by researchers at the Flinders University College of Science and Engineering in Australia.

The researchers surveyed EHPs in each of the countries to gather insights into the common methodologies and processes for food safety inspections. Some variance from the common inspection approach was noted, but in general, similarities outweighed differences. Some variance was attributable to individual differences between inspectors rather than between countries.

Individualism in food safety inspection leads to variation in practices such as preparation and preconception, preferred materials for recording information, and prioritization for communication, and therefore, differences based in individualism may be more aptly described as “inspector style.” Since there is no universal guidance available to inspectors to guide their approach to food safety inspection, it is reasonable to assume that inspectors will lean on individual preferences when performing inspections. However, the impact of this variance in approach is unknown.

Not all differences are attributable to individualism; cultural differences, history, values, conflicts, and economic interests may all contribute to the variances in inspection approaches. For example, inspections in each of the studied countries exhibited the following:

  • Australia: Inspection approach reflects a residual of command-and-control elements within the process, a high level of officer discretion, and a highly officer-centric determination approach.
  • UK: Inspection approach exhibits a more comprehensive risk conceptualization, reliance on a broader source of information to inform inspections, more purposive approach to recording inspection information, and more engagement beyond the inspector where assessments are informed by external sources and maintain transparency and rights for business input. Inspectors are informed by a more considered approach when determining an inspection result.
  • U.S.: Inspection approaches are more inspector-centered, inspector observation-focused, and event-focused. Inspection result frameworks are more widely in place rather than inspector discretion when determining an inspection result.
  • New Zealand: Inspection approach has a higher focus on business rights and adopts a more deregulatory approach, is less risk-focused, and engages a more cyclic style. Inspectors report taking a more collaborative and facilitative approach with food businesses.
  • Ireland: Inspection approach reflects a more comprehensive risk conceptualization. Inspectors report a lower relationship focus and a high level of inspector discretion when determining results.

Despite the social and individual influences that cause deviations from the common approach to food safety inspection, there is a distinct natural confluence of how inspectors perform food safety inspections. The convergence of approaches to food safety inspection may be attributed in part to the generative requisites that give rise to them, to the universality of food safety principles and pathogenic agents that remain the focal point of inspections, and the shared overarching purpose of food safety inspection. Commonalities were identified in how inspectors plan and prepare, initiate inspections, record and gather data, determine and report outcomes, and carry out follow-up enforcement.

There are a number of advantages that emanate from the convergence of food safety inspection approaches, such as supporting the transferability of inspectors between countries. The similarities suggest that training between the five countries in the study may be adequately universal to facilitate transferability, but there is no universal guidance or framework on how to perform a food safety inspection. The development of universal guidance to food safety inspection may contribute to harmonization between countries.