Challenges of Health Department Inspections: Declining Dollars

chef in the kitchen

Budget cuts can threaten public safety.

Federal and state governments continually face budget challenges. Often, they choose to cut services when there doesn’t really seem to be a problem. The logic likely is, why spend money on restaurant inspections when there hasn’t been any major food borne epidemic in months or longer? It is this type of flawed logic that can lead to a disaster.

The problem is cyclical and recurring.

In 2013, the Spokesman-Review reported that budget cuts are threatening, among other things, restaurant inspections.In the past eight years, the Spokane Regional Health District has cut more than 40 jobs … as funding levels dip to the lowest levels in a decade”, said Administrator Torney Smith, On any given day, nine food safety inspectors fan out across Spokane County conducting surprise visits to about 2,300 businesses that serve food.”

The issue continues to spreads nationally.

According to an article in the Sun Herald May of last year,Restaurant inspectors in South Mississippi are working out of their homes and cars after major cuts to the budget of the Mississippi Department of Health closed offices and cut staff.”

In Louisiana, an article in New Orleans Eater that also ran in May 2016 indicated, “…a proposed state budget cutwould decrease the number of sanitarians from 145 to 129 (In New Orleans)” and cause an estimated 26% reduction in food inspections

Then, this shocking report from the Sun Times in November 2016, Less than 44 percent of Chicago restaurants …. are being inspected as often as state law requiresundermining public trust and jeopardizing state fundingbecause the citys Department of Public Health isseriously understaffed,” Inspector General Joe Ferguson has concluded.”

These stories are repeated all across the US. While it is understandable in an era of declining government revenues, it poses an increased risk to the public and an increased need for the public to become more diligent.

Declining public health inspections poses a burden for consumers who will need to be more informed and proactive. Using a resource to choose where to ‘Dine with Confidence’ and confidentially pointing out potential food safety problems to management become standards for good citizenship in an era of declining public surveillance. The Dining Grades website is that resource.


Author: Dr. Harlan Stueven, MD

Harlan Stueven M.D. is a Board-Certified Emergency physician with sub-specialization in Environmental Toxicology and Board Certification in Medical Toxicology. Starting his career in the USAF, he served as a Flight Surgeon and Environmental Health Consultant Physician where one of his duties was monitoring food safety. In his nearly 40-year practice, he treated a range of medical, surgical and poisoning emergencies. He has been a Medical Director and/or Chairman of several hospital-based Emergency Medicine Departments, served as the President of Emergency and Environmental Medicine consulting group, a physician group Chief Financial Officer and sat on many national, state and local committees. Dr. Stueven founded Dining Grades and the Dining Safety Alliance to improve food safety by increasing awareness of food borne illness and the formation of partnerships within the food industry. He is a consultant to the Wisconsin Retail Food Establishment Grading Work Group; a Co-investigator in a CDC funded “Evaluation of Health Department Restaurant Inspection Programs” project. He has presented at several National, State and Regional conferences on restaurant grading and food safety. He is an accomplished leader, medical researcher, a champion of process improvement, author, and national and international speaker.

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