More responsibilities and too few inspectors are hindering restaurant inspections, according to a newspaper’s review of data.
The Hartford Courant reviewed inspection data from 2006 through this spring and found that state codes establishing fixed timetables for restaurant inspections are violated.
In the West Hartford-Bloomfield Health District, the median time between routine inspections is about 193 days. In New Haven, it’s 169 days.
In the health district covering seven towns in the Enfield area, it’s 168 days. And in the area that covers nine towns in the Tolland area, it’s 140 days.
No one says a lack of inspectors means restaurants are dirty or unsafe. But officials say more resources would ensure that Connecticut’s eating establishments were cleaner.
Keeping up with state requirements is nearly impossible “unless you have staff coming out of the woodwork,” said Martha Page, director of Hartford’s environmental health division.
“Everyone’s intent is, always, to meet the public health code,” she said. “It is very, very difficult to do.”
The state’s staffing levels have fallen, and the state Department of Public Health does not have sufficient staff to make sure districts are following the code’s inspection frequency requirements.
“Do we go around and evaluate? We don’t have the staff to do that,” said Tracey Weeks, coordinator for the state’s food protection program. “We do some evaluations upon complaint, if someone comes to us and says places haven’t been inspected in years or that no inspections are occurring. Or if someone says that an inspector isn’t doing their job appropriately. Then yes, we will do a formal investigation.
“But do we do routine inspections? No,” she said.
Weeks said she believes that restaurants in Connecticut are clean and that most districts are performing quality inspections. But almost every study shows that when inspectors appear more frequently, “the more compliance you have,” she said.
Sanitarians inspect establishments that serve food, check public swimming pools for cleanliness, examine septic tanks and wells and inspect for lead paint. They also follow up on complaints about rodent infestations, unsightly trash, mosquito breeding, sewage overflows and other hazards.
Rick Matheny, director of the Farmington Valley Health District, said he instructs his staff to skip the health code’s mandated numbers and instead asks that staff strive for quality, not quantity.
“There is no doubt about it — if we wanted to rip through inspections, we could probably be in compliance,” Matheny said. “The real question is, what have you accomplished if you do that?”