15 Finds Out: Health department behind on restaurant inspections

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – There are thousands of food establishments in Allen County that have to be inspected by the health department every year. Allen County ordinance requires some restaurants to be inspected more than once.

After 15 Finds Out discovered several restaurants in Fort Wayne getting dozens of repeat violations on their health department inspections last fall, we went back to see if there was improvement on the next visit. But, for seven of the ten restaurants with ten or more critical violations on their last routine inspection in 2015, there wasn’t a second report to read.

“We were struggling. We’ll be honest about that,” Steve Schumm, the director of food and consumer protection at the Fort Wayne Allen County Health Department said.

Allen County Food and Beverage Ordinance says depending on the menu type, some restaurants have to have two or three random inspections every year.

“We tried to hit every place within last year that we could hit. For the most part we were able to accomplish that at least once. A lot of those places you like to get to twice and that’s the goal this year and that’s the goal every year, to try to get there once in the first six months and once in the second six months,” Schumm said.

In many cases, the health department did follow-up visits on any major violations found in the first visit, but inspectors didn’t make it back out for another random check.

“It’s not because you’re not out there and trying and grinding to get the work done. You are,” Schumm said. “We track every day and the hours we spend and the time we’re in the field. It’s not because of lack of effort or because we don’t care.”

The health department food division was hit with a lot of turnover last year. There are six people in the department: the division director, the assistant division director/plan reviewer and four inspectors who do the routine inspections.

The health department supplied the following list of position changes in 2015:

1/5/15 – 2 new food inspectors start employment (3-4 month training begins)
5/13/15 – 1 of those food inspectors resigned (position posted)
7/20/15 – 1 new food inspector starts employment (3-4 month training begins)
10/9/15 – Food Division director resigns (position posted)
11/9/15 – Steve Schumm promoted to Food Division Director
12/14/15 – Michelle Radosevich promoted from inspector to Asst Food Division Director (her food inspector position posted)
12/16/15 – 1 food inspector resigned (position posted)
2/15/16 – 2 new food inspectors start employment to fill the two open food inspector positions (3-4 month training begin)

Training a food inspector involves shadowing another inspector for three to four months to learn the all the state codes and how to apply them.

“To make sure we do it right, we do like to take advantage of the full probationary period,” Schumm said.

When there are two new inspectors at the same time, the trainer inspector takes them both out at the same time. That means one establishment is inspected in the time three normally would be when everyone is fully trained.

Now the department is at full staff again and training two new inspectors. Schumm said he hopes once his team is fully operational, they can make it to all the required visits.

“We have a goal in place that we want to hit all of them and we’ll help them out as a team. There will be a probationary period for new staff, but as they get out there and do inspections, we’ll see where we’re at the end of 2016.”

Click here to search for a restaurant’s inspections

Next Inspections for Top Violators a Mixed Bag

Last October, 15 Finds Out examined the latest routine inspections for the last two years and ten establishments rose to the top with ten or more critical violations in 2015. How are those restaurants doing now? When 15 Finds Out searched for the next routine inspection for those ten businesses, only three had updates.

Great Wall II Buffet on Coldwater Road is closed. When the health department went back to do another inspection, the only sign left was one in the window that said space available. Exactly why the restaurant closed wasn’t listed on the out of business report.

See the Out of Business Report

Another high violator is now off the list. Mahnin Asian Restaurant went from more than 30 violations, including pest problems, last April to only one small violation in December.

“It’s the reason why a lot of us do our job. We want to see restaurants win. We want them to be able to provide safe food and quality food to customers,” Schumm said.

See Mahnin’s latest inspection report

But, it’s not the same success story for House of Hunan. It was inspected in May and then again in October and the reports were almost unchanging. The restaurant lowered its critical violations from 13 to eight and its non-critical violations from 29 to 22, but there were still 25 repeat violations in the October inspection.

See House of Hunan’s latest inspection report

“Even though the numbers may have been trending in the right directions, a few less critical and a few less non-critical violations, there were a lot of repeats. We know we have a lot of work to do and I talked to our environmental health specialist too if there’s a need of an interpreter or me to go out there on an inspection. What other educational materials can we get so we can exhaust all our resources,” Schumm said.

Only one violation wasn’t fixed on site by the inspector- the lack of a certified food handler. Someone from the restaurant has to take a food safety class to have the certification.

“That class will teach them a lot of things they have critical violations for,” Schumm said. “It shows they have knowledge of food safety because they passed the class and took the test.”

The certificate is then good for five years. House of Hunan’s expired in April 2015. It was noted in the May inspection and again in October. The restaurant needed to provide proof of a certified food handler within 90 days, which would have been mid-January. But, when 15 Finds Out asked in February if the restaurant complied, the health department didn’t know.

“They are on the calendar [for a visit], but we haven’t been there for a follow up yet,” Schumm said.

House of Hunan’s owner told 15 Finds Out that he took the test last month, but didn’t pass. He said he doesn’t have enough time to study and it’s hard to learn the material. When asked if he needed an interpreter, he said no because the test is given in Chinese. He won’t take the test again until April, which means the restaurant will have been without a certified food handler for a year.

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