Archive for Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lawrence health department loses food inspection contract due to state budget cuts

December 8, 2009, 3:06 p.m. Updated December 8, 2009, 8:10 p.m.

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Health department to forgo inspections

The Lawrence - Douglas County Health Department will no longer conduct food service inspections of area restaurants. Budget shortfalls have caused the department to cut back. Enlarge video

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department will no longer conduct food service inspections at 435 local restaurants.

The department announced Tuesday that its $90,000 contract with the Kansas Department of Agriculture will be terminated.

Beginning Jan. 9, KDA will take over restaurant inspections in Douglas County as well as Geary, Reno, Riley and Saline counties, where it has contracts. The contracts are for food safety inspections at restaurants and other operations where food is served for immediate consumption on or off site.

Have a food complaint?

To report a food safety concern, contact the Kansas Department of Agriculture at (785) 296-7430 or (785) 296-5600.

The department also has a form online at www.ksda.gov/open_records/id/13.

Food safety inspectors from KDA are also in those counties to inspect grocery and convenience stores, food processors and manufacturers, and food wholesalers and warehouses, and they will take over inspecting food service operations as they do in other counties.

The five county contracts cost KDA about $245,000 each year, or 8.4 percent of its $2.9 million budget for food safety.

KDA oversees about 16,600 food licenses, including 593 in Douglas County. The three inspectors who oversaw the other food inspections will pick up the restaurant inspections.

Streamlining, efficiency

“It’s realigning our resources to make better use of what we’ve got,” said Lisa Taylor, communications director with KDA. “Everyone is being impacted by the cuts that we are seeing to government agencies, and we have to make a decision about, ‘Can we do the work that we need to do with the resources that we have?’ This was an opportunity to streamline our operation to make it more efficient.”

Taylor said there are some facilities — for example, a grocery store with a food service section like a Chinese kitchen or sushi bar — that are visited by two inspectors. The county inspects the food service operation while a state inspector inspects the retail operation.

“There would be a redundancy there,” she said.

The contract cuts come on the heels of KDA’s announcement last week that it would cut safety and sanitation inspections of hotels, motels and other overnight lodging operations.

The agency lost $303,000 in Gov. Mark Parkinson’s latest round of state budget cuts. The cost of the lodging program inspection program is $240,000 annually.

“We have had some cuts to our budget,” Taylor said. “We suspended lodging inspections as a result of the last round of cuts, so we looked at it as an opportunity to kind of shift things around a little bit.”

The department moved three full-time lodging inspectors into the state’s food safety program.

According to KDA, the current facility-to-inspector ratio is 391 to 1. After the contracts end, the ratio will be 400 to 1.

“It’s the same level of service,” Taylor said. “It’s that we are going to be doing it internally rather than farming the work out. So, it’s not going to have any impact on the public whatsoever.”

Local impact

Dan Partridge, director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, said the move already has had an effect locally. Two longtime employees will lose their jobs.

“We’ve had to say good-bye to two employees who have been here — 10 and 15 years respectively,” Partridge said. “That’s not a pleasant thing. It also means that the capacity to provide environmental health services at the local level are diminished.”

Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30 of this year, the health department staff conducted 823 restaurant inspections, 87 of which were complaints that were responded to within 24 hours.

From the start of is contract with KDA in May 2008, the health department has been inspecting each facility at least twice a year. State law requires annual inspections of food establishments.

“It’s puzzling to me how inspectors can take on this significant amount of work on top of what they were already doing and continue at the pace we were providing services,” Partridge said.

Dr. Alan Cowles, chairman of the local health department board, described the KDA’s decision as unwise.

“Our residents are very concerned about food safety,” Cowles said. “We have some of the finest restaurants in the state, and of course, we want to keep it that way. People want to go out and eat and be assured that what they are eating is safe.”

Taylor said KDA will base its inspections on the number of violations that a facility receives.

“Those facilities that have more critical violations are going to get more visits from us,” Taylor said. “The facilities that do well on their inspections, obviously don’t get inspected as often. So it’s all based on what we find. But, the law requires once a year.”

The department will continue its contracts with health departments in Johnson and Sedgwick counties, where the concentration of restaurants and other food service operations are highest, and in Lyon County, where there is no state inspector close enough to adequately cover that territory.

Comments

Stuart Evans 5 years, 7 months ago

hopefully, area businesses will take it upon themselves to continue offering a safe, clean eating environment.

gccs14r 5 years, 7 months ago

"hopefully, area businesses will take it upon themselves to continue offering a safe, clean eating environment."

If that were true, it wouldn't be necessary to conduct inspections. Maybe we'll quit eating out, or go over to MO (assuming they still have a health department budget for inspections).

"Good news for LMH."

How long before they quit getting inspected?

repaste 5 years, 7 months ago

Is that 20 + inspections a day for each inspector? As a food service worker - be careful where you eat, does not matter how much you pay. a great many places - a majority even - need the inspectors. there should be required sani-safe training for managers.

Sparko 5 years, 7 months ago

This is egregious. One area that government has an affirmative responsibility involves the health and well-being of its citizenry. This is the GOP template for ruination. Businesses and banks regulate themselves as they starve government of money for essential services. Kansas is in a world of hurt. But gays can't marry, so I suppose a little botulism is a price worth paying.

dru442 5 years, 7 months ago

Not that it matters now, but mainly to clarify something... If KDA inspects a retail space (Walmart) that has a separate food service facility inside (Subway), the county would not inspect the Subway. If a food service establishment is located inside a retail food store, then KDA would be in charge of both facilities. No redundancy there.

lawrenceofkansas 5 years, 7 months ago

Can a person also sue the state government after being food poisoned by an uninspected food establishment?

repaste 5 years, 7 months ago

Larry - Doesn't that work out to 5,200 inspections per inspector, per year? That means 1 every few years . . .

repaste 5 years, 7 months ago

"Taylor said KDA will base its inspections on the number of violations that a facility receives." That means no inspections for almost all.

flux 5 years, 7 months ago

Food inspector, thats sounds like a gravy job. I want that gig.

seriouscat 5 years, 7 months ago

Scary. My entire family got food poisoning last year at the North Lawrence Sonic. Two days of school and one day of work missed. Of all things, this is something that should not be skimped on.

geekin_topekan 5 years, 7 months ago

No health inspections?We need MORE GOVERNMENT!!

Oh wait, you need to see a doctor? That's your problem! We need LESS GOVERNMENT!!

My kid has to walk to school. We need MORE GOVERNMENT!!

He could ride the T, but we need LESS GOVERNMENT!!

Boston_Corbett 5 years, 7 months ago

An estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease occur each year in the United States. The great majority of these cases are mild and cause symptoms for only a day or two. Some cases are more serious, and CDC estimates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to foodborne diseases each year. ---- CDC

Unix_Admin 5 years, 7 months ago

WOW - El Mezcal has been busted several times this year for re-using salsa!! I was never going to eat there again anyway...

Kelly Johnson 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm confused...how does 16,600 places divided among 3 inspectors work out to be a 400:1 ratio?

lounger 5 years, 7 months ago

This is the most dangerous, ridiculous budget cut I have seen come out of the capital!!! For God's sake who In the Hell thinks this is wise???? It will come back to haunt us for sure.....

yoornotmee 5 years, 7 months ago

Five Guys is clean and super anal about proper glove use, etc. They even wash the containers that the lids and straws are in. Plus it's an open kitchen so you can watch your food as they make it.

booknut 5 years, 7 months ago

Yeah, but the food at 5 Guys is horrible! I'd rather live with dirty straw containers than eat there. Not to mention it is really expensive for what you get.

somedude20 5 years, 7 months ago

is there a website that lists all of a restaurant's violations?

Karrey Britt 5 years, 7 months ago

Pywacket. Thanks for your comment. Interesting to hear the differences between the food establishments.

Karrey Britt 5 years, 7 months ago

LarryNative: Thanks for your comments. I found it interesting that you had only one visit during the past couple of years. Also, I agree that it's in the best interest of the business to be as safe as possible.

EarthaKitt 5 years, 7 months ago

I did about seven years at a legendary Lawrence restaurant and I can attest to how low the cleanliness bar is set at many eateries. The inspectors came once a year and scolded us for not dating containers and not having hot water in the handwashing sink, etc., but as soon as they were gone we were back to our old lazy ways. Right or wrong, what does a 20-something care when they're paid minimum wage to work like a dog? I won't even go into the roach infestation. (I miss my little buddies.)

Food poisoning aside, the best food usually comes from the filthiest places. I would recommend, however, that you always be kind to your servers. I'll leave you to ruminate....

Free2009 5 years, 7 months ago

This is confusing....If this guy is not losing his job as a food inspector, then who is?

JHOK32 5 years, 7 months ago

Wasn't there a coyote or a dog or something found being butchered in a Lawrence chinese restaurant a few years ago?

Karrey Britt 5 years, 7 months ago

PopcoRN. According to Lisa Taylor, of KDA, the state oversees 15,796 licenses. The number of licenses where inspections are performed in Johnson, Sedgwick and Lyon counties is 3,827. So, the number of licenses inspected by KDA staff — 30 inspectors — is 11,969. That's how they get the ratio. It actually comes out to be 398 to 1.

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