SOUTH CAROLINA: Fewer inspectors for more restaurants
Posted: October 31st, 2010 - 9:18pm
Rats, bugs and spoiled meat are some of the things a health inspector looks for when visiting the kitchen of a South Carolina restaurant.
It's a government service intended to keep restaurants clean and diners from getting sick.
But South Carolina's restaurant inspection program is suffering. Faced with unprecedented budget cuts that have shrunk the health department's state funding from $147 million to $81 million in the past two years, the agency has encouraged staffers across the department to retire or resign. It also has not filled vacant jobs.
That's costing programs like the restaurant inspection service, which has fewer people to monitor an increasing number of restaurants.
Since 2008, the Department of Health and Environmental Control has lost about 20 restaurant inspectors, shrinking the total number to about 100, according to DHEC's most recent annual accountability report. As a short-term measure, the department has trained septic tank inspectors to help out. But the report says the agency can't guarantee those employees will always be available.
Meanwhile, the number of food establishments rose by 54 percent in the past five years, the agency says. In 2005, South Carolina had 11,976 restaurants and other places that serve food. Today, the state has 18,482, DHEC reported Friday.
All the cutting has the food inspection program, one of the most basic public health services the agency provides, struggling to check the cleanliness of restaurants.
The number of routine, unannounced inspections dropped to 2.01 per food service facility in 2010 from an average of 2.25 per facility last year, according to reports filed by DHEC with the state Office of Budget. Follow-up inspections - those done after sanitation or other problems are noted during routine inspections - dropped to an average of less than 1 per facility from an average of 1.04 per facility in the same time frame, DHEC budget reports show.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends four routine unannounced inspections a year.
All told, DHEC did about 12,000 fewer inspections in fiscal year 2010 than it did the previous year.