Topic: COMMUNITY INTEREST
For Their Food Safety Inspection Program
By Tammy Duffy, PhD
Hamilton Township Food Inspection Data: Source Hamilton twp website
The township of Hamilton, Mercer County, released food establishment inspection results on Friday. This is a new initiative where they state they are committed to maintaining the health safety of residents and visitors to Hamilton Township. In order to promote Hamilton Township’s health safety the Division of Health conducts inspections of retail food establishments, public recreational swimming pools and spas, and youth camps located within Hamilton Township. If the township is truly committed to public safety, they need to alter their approach, inspection process, inspection postings, inspectors professionalism immediately.
Let's first review some of the data which comes directly from the townships web site. The data only goes back to July 2012 and only shows an overall result, no details. The actual reports are not on line. The residents will have no idea why an establishment failed.
The data starts at the same magical start point date July 2012. This is the same date that one will find if you OPRA any data (which is digital in nature) from the township. Prior to this date townships officials destroyed all digital data on all computers in the township. There is no historical data available. There was no certification of the destruction of the records which is required by law. The destruction of public documents is against the law and a prosecutable offense.
- In 2012, there were only 23 sites inspected
- In 2013, there were only 296 sites inspected
- In 2014, 500 sites were inspected
- In 2015, 672 sites were inspected
- In 2016, thus far 127 have been inspected
- In 2014, 184 inspections were done in first half of year, 316 in second half of year
The data is quite remarkable in that it demonstrates a hockey stick effect at the end of every year. Does this mean that the risk to residents is higher in the first half of the year at any food establishment? Why are the inspections not happening in a more stable timeframe? These results demonstrate a blatant disregard for public safety.
More questions to ponder.......
- Why were there only 23 sites inspected in the second half of the year in 2012? Clearly, there were more than 23 food establishments in Hamilton then.
- In 2014, there were 500 inspections, yet in 2013 only 296. Where there 204 new food establishments added in Hamilton in 2014?
- In 2015, there were 672 inspections, yet in 2015 there were only 500. Where there 172 new food establishments in 2015 added in Hamilton? Of course not.
We took the opportunity to call 30 restaurants on the list from various years and what we learned is quite remarkable. The restaurants have varying results from satisfactory, unsatisfactory to conditionally satisfactory. The restaurant owners were candid about the process and how they feel about this new initiative. There were a few repeated frustrations at all levels.
- The inspectors that come are extremely unprofessional. They are rude to the establishments staff and owners.
- The inspection process was different at all 30 establishments. The way in which the inspectors performed the inspections was different at each establishment.
- The inspectors arrive with an "axe to grind" attitude and are failing establishments needlessly.
It is clear from the thirty restaurant owners we spoke to, that the process is significantly broken. It is quite concerning that the inspections are done differently at each establishment. How can the township set an evaluation result which is "standardized" if the methodology utilized in the inspections is flawed? This flawed approach will not produce results that are of any value to the residents or public safety.
The list that has been posted by the township is nothing more than a list. It does not demonstrate the entire report, so the entire story is not shared. There methods appear to be extremely flawed. The hockey stick effect to the timing of the inspections does not meet the FDA required mandates.
We have seen this before with the constant touting of the crime reports being the lowest in the township since 1977. The residents want to see where the data is from 1977, clearly it data that far back does not exist anywhere else in the township. If the township shared all the data for the food inspections, residents would be able to make better informed decisions.
This new initiative appears to be more of a smear campaign towards small local businesses vs. educating the public. If the township clearly wants to be open about the process, share the entire health inspection reports, the certifications of all the inspectors and the calibration results of the tools utilized by the inspectors.
The FDA set standards for food inspections. The ultimate goal to be achieved by a food establishment inspection is to prevent foodborne disease. Inspection is the primary tool a regulatory agency has for detecting procedures and practices which may be hazardous and taking actions to correct deficiencies. Food Code-based laws and ordinances provide inspectors scientifically based rules for food safety.
The regulatory agencies supply towns with guidance on planning, scheduling, conducting, and evaluating inspections. It also supports programs by providing recommendations for training and equipping the inspection staff, and attempts to enhance the effectiveness of inspections by stressing the importance of communication and information exchange during regulatory visits. Inspections aid the industry by:
(1) Serving as educational sessions on specific Code requirements as they apply to an establishment and its operation;
(2) Conveying new food safety information to establishment management and providing an opportunity for management to ask questions about general food safety matters; and
(3) Providing a written report to the establishment's permit holder or person in charge so that the responsible person can bring the establishment into conformance with the Code.
Inspectors must be properly equipped to perform the inspections in their assigned territory. Basic staff training is very important to staff development and should be a well-defined and documented process. There is zero information supplied to the residents of Hamilton on how often the food inspectors are trained or if they have been trained. There is no inspector certifications posted anywhere to ensure the public the inspectors are current on technology and inspection protocols.
Another important data point missing from the inspectors reports is proof of calibration of the devices in which they utilize during an inspection. If they are going to fail an establishment for their refrigerator temperatures being off by a few degrees, they better be able to prove that the device they used for their measurement, is not out of calibration. If they go on to say that an establishment must replace their entire refrigerator, the township inspectors better be able to prove their tools are calibrated. In the event their devices are not calibrated or they cannot prove they were, or the township has no certication on file of the inspector, the restaurant owner would have ever right to sue the township for financial hardships created by the inspectors.
Our advise to residents about this data is it is flawed. Before anyone gets upset that they just ate at a place that received anything but satisfactory result from a township health inspector, know that the township is failing at their approach to food inspections. The hockey stick effect, the unprofessional nature of the inspectors, the lack of certification data shared on the inspectors, the lack of certification data on the tools utilized by inspectors, etc are just a few of the flaws. The list they posted is not a true representation of the entire story.
The township should take the time to review and optimize their own inspection team and process before handing out any more fines. Their current program gets a UNSATISFACTORY grade from the residents and jeopordizes public safety.
The responsibility for this belongs at the top of the leadership in Hamilton. It was also shared with us that during events in area restaurants the top leader in Hamilton demonstrates a behavior that is "treacherous towards her employees. When she does not get her way she behaves like a spoiled child."
The cadence of behavior is set from the top in business and in towns. If the top leader behaves in a manner that is creating an environment of intimidation, this transcends to those who work in their environment. This no doubt why these 30 restaurant we spoke to, are seeing the unprofessional, intimidating, rude behavior by the inspectors. They are walking to the cadence of the leadership in Hamilton.
IDEA.....Maybe the township should put some of the body cameras they are buying for the police department, on the health inspectors. This will allow them to evaluate how they are doing their inspections and help optimize the issues with the process.