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Posted on: June 18, 2015

[ARCHIVED] Maragos: Weakness Found in Food Health Inspections; Letter Grading System Should Be Considered

Mineola, NY – Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos released an audit of the Department of Health (DOH) which found numerous weaknesses with the County’s inspections of restaurants, catering, and other food establishments. Most significant was that at least 74% or 4,855 of the high risk Food Service Establishments (FSEs) did not receive the New York State (NYS) recommended second annual inspection. Additionally, 10% of public complaints regarding food establishments were not tracked for resolution, required Food Manager Training at High Risk FSEs could not be confirmed, and the three year rotation of inspectors is too long to safeguard against corruption. Furthermore, the payment of assessed fines was not adequately tracked to ensure collections and there is no expedited process for payment online or by mail of common violations, as is the case with other counties. The implementation of an expedited process could result in collection of fees of approximately $300,000, and relieve the burden on our small businesses to lengthy hearings. The audit period covered 2012-2014.
“Our Health inspection service has kept us safe, but the numerous weaknesses found in the food inspection system are concerning,” Comptroller Maragos said. “I urge the County Department of Health to follow through on its commitments to improve the system, and to reconsider certain rejected recommendations which can strengthen enforcement and public confidence.”
DOH monitors approximately 6500 food service establishments’ compliance with the New York State Sanitary Code and the Nassau County Public Health Ordinance. These regulations require FSEs to operate in a sanitary and safe manner. FSEs include, but are not limited to, restaurants, delicatessens, retail bakeries, school cafeterias, taverns, as well as mobile units and temporary stands at fairs and festivals.
Currently the food establishments are classified by three categories of risk which determine the recommended number of inspections which should be performed periodically; High, inspected twice per year, Medium inspected once per year and Low inspected once every two years. Besides not performing 74% or about 4,855 of the NYS recommended second annual inspections for High Risk food service establishments, auditors also found risk classification errors such as Medium listed as Low risk, and High listed as medium.

DOH Food Protection utilizes a sliding scale rating system A–E to establish how well an FSE performed during an inspection. As they assign a grade, for each inspection, they should consider a program similar to New York City, posting the grade for the public to view before entering. The Department disagrees that posting a Grading System would provide useful information for the public, as sanitary conditions and critical violations can change on a daily basis. We believe that posting of grades could be in the public interest and could provide incentives for FSEs to improve in order to achieve higher grades.

“Our food inspection must be modernized to ensure public safety, retain public confidence and minimize the potential for corruption,” Comptroller Maragos said. “Although no evidence of fraud was found, the current food health inspection system is prone to fraud, and possible health violations persisting longer than necessary. A Grading System can enhance public confidence.”
The full version of the report is available on our website.

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