Kitchen Cops: Inspecting the inspectors

Kitchen Cops: Inspecting the inspectors

COLBERT COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - Local health inspections inspect hundreds of restaurants each week to make sure they are clean and safe. Most area health departments meet or are close to meeting state requirements that dictate how often each food establishment needs inspected within specific time frames. But two are lagging behind.

"Our goal is we want to keep the public safe. That's the whole reason we're out here is we want to keep the food safe and we want to keep the public safe," said Colbert County health inspector Summer Beard.

James Congleton is the Director of the Alabama Department of Public Health Area 1. That area covers Colbert County, Lauderdale County and Franklin County. Each of those departments have a high rate of compliance with the guidelines. Congleton said keeping up with the required inspection schedule is a public health issue.

"If you have a large gap in time of doing restaurants, the scores are normally going to fall. Especially in those that don't have good management," Congleton said. "People die every year from food borne illnesses. So it's very important that inspections are made."

WAFF 48's research shows that most county health departments are doing a good job at doing inspections on time, but two are well behind schedule. The state requires inspections within 180 days for food establishments that score a 95 or above. It's within 120 days for scores between 85 and 94, 60 days for scores from 70 to 84, and two days for restaurants that score from 60 to 69.

According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Lauderdale County and Colbert County health departments currently have a 100 percent on-time rate, and Franklin County is at 99 percent.

In Area 2, Madison County has inspected 95 percent of food establishments on time. Lawrence County is at 96 percent, Limestone County is at 97 percent, and the Jackson County Health Department is at 100 percent compliance. But also in Area 2, 30 percent of Marshall County food establishments have not been inspected within the required time frames, and 27 percent of inspections are past due in  Morgan County. Ten percent of Cullman County food inspections are overdue.

The Alabama Department of Public Health's Food Program Director Mark Sestak said the Morgan County and the Marshall County health departments each have a shortage of inspectors right now, which is the main reason they are behind. We will be talking with the ADPH Director to find out why those staffing issues are happening, and report what we find what we discover.

The Momma Goldberg's Deli in Muscle Shoals has never scored lower than 94. Owner Preston Settle said keeping the equipment clean and the food safe is a major part of developing trust with their customers.

"I'm a member of the community, and I want to ensure I'm providing safe service for my community," Settle said.

Congleton added that doing inspections on time helps keep restaurants in line with safety regulations.

"The more that the health department is in making inspections in restaurants, the better the scores are going to be just for the fact that it's done more often," he said.

There are two low performers in this week's Kitchen Cops Report. Donna's Barn and Cafe in Elkmont scored a 65. The Limestone County Health Department reported that there was a lack of back flow prevention on an outside faucet with a hose. Backflow prevention is needed to ensure contaminated water does not flow back into the water supply. The restaurant also lost points because the septic system was failing, the ice maker needed to be cleaned, water the hand washing sink was not hot enough, and cheese was no reheating to the temperature required for hot holding food.

Asian Buffet on Madison Boulevard in Madison scored an 80. A Madison County health inspector reported that there were several flies near the soda dispensing area in the kitchen. There were also food temperature issues. The inspector reported that raw chicken and raw beef was 57°F, 16 degrees above the temperature required to prevent bacterial growth in cold holding food. Crab meat and raw shell eggs were reportedly 66°F.

For the most recent health inspection scores, log on to the Alabama Department of Public Health Food Establishment Scores.

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