Photo: Vito Palmisano, Getty Images
ALBANY — New York’s food safety inspectors are identifying hundreds of restaurants and food-serving establishments with serious food violations but in many cases fail to take enforcement actions, state auditors reported Friday.
Local health departments are required to inspect all food service establishments in their jurisdiction to ensure they abide by state sanitary code. In cases where the most serious code violations are observed — such as food contamination, exposure to sick workers, or food stored outside appropriate temperatures — departments are required to take some enforcement action, or document why they don’t.
Even food-serving establishments with serious violations “faced no enforcement actions whatsoever,” state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.
His office conducted the audit to determine whether the state Health Department is adequately monitoring local compliance with state sanitary code. The audit covered an approximately four-year period from Jan. 1, 2014, through April 12, 2018.
A total of 984 Category 1 violations (the most serious kind) were reviewed over the period from 10 jurisdictions including Schenectady County. In 717 of them (73 percent), no enforcement action resulted. In 590 of those violations, local health departments did not provide documented justification for why they took no action.
Responding to the audit, the state Health Department acknowledged these lapses, but defended the lack of action by noting that in many cases the hazards are corrected or mitigated on the spot, making further action unnecessary.
Formal enforcement measures may include administrative hearings, formal stipulations, fines, court actions and/or closure. The Comptroller’s office recommended that local departments use these measures or provide a good reason for not doing so — especially in the case of repeat violators.
A 2017 report on food-service inspections found that the Capital Region has the highest rate of Category 1 violations per inspection compared to other parts of the state.
The audit credited health departments for having effective systems in place to respond to outbreaks of foodborne illness and protect the public from further contamination.
But it uncovered a major lapse in the frequency of inspections, with high-risk establishments receiving the recommended two inspections per year only 44 percent of the time.
It also noted a decline in the percentage of high-risk establishments that are inspected by the most advanced food safety inspection officers — from 76 percent in 2014 to 64 percent in 2017. The state recommends advanced inspectors for high-risk establishments, which include repeat violators and eateries that serve complex food items involving cooling and reheating.
Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department, noted that the report did not find any violation of public health laws or regulations when it comes to food service inspections.
“DOH and local health departments effectively prioritize efforts across multiple environmental health programs, including food service, to ensure the health and safety of the public at all regulated establishments,” she said.
Published at Fri, 05 Apr 2019 17:37:46 +0000