The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is now conducting food service inspections for the state.
One food inspector began his duties late last week and a second inspector is in training, said Richard Ziesenis, environmental health director who oversees sanitation code inspectors. They will be responsible for routine inspections of about 430 food establishments in the county, including restaurants, schools, convenience stores, caterers and mobile vendors. State law requires an annual inspection.
"Our goal is to inspect them twice," Ziesenis said. "Also, we will check any complaints we get in addition to those inspections."
Andrew Stull is the department's first inspector, and he will be joined in a few weeks by Marilyn Peeter. Both have been among four sanitation code inspectors.
Planning for food inspections has been under way for several months.
"Restaurant inspections are a vital and widely recognized public health function, and we are committed to providing a level of service that meets the high standards of the public and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment," Lawrence-Douglas County department director Dan Partridge said.
KDHE now contracts with eight counties for food inspections. Food establishments pay a $200 annual operations fee, and under the state contract Douglas County will receive 80 percent of the fees collected in the county. The remaining 20 percent will go to the state for administrative duties. The inspections will bring the health department about $68,800.
County inspectors will report their findings about complaints to KDHE, which will then decide what action to take.
Taking on food inspection duties is part of the health department's strategic plan to diversify its services and expand into an essential area of public health, Partridge said. Two sanitation inspectors could be assigned to food inspections because of the economic downturn in the housing and real estate markets, Partridge and Ziesenis said. County building permits are down 15 percent.
Sanitation inspectors also check environmental complaints such as water and air pollution.
On Oct. 1 food inspection services will be transferred from KDHE to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, KDHE food protection director Angela Kohls said. County contracts are transferable.