Bill unlikely to increase frequency of food safety inspections

  • The State House dome as seen on March 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Friday, March 17, 2017

The frequency of food safety inspections would likely not increase under a bill meant to address a report that found some restaurants and cafeterias went years without state check-ins.

The bill doesn’t provide money for additional food safety inspectors or mandate more checks. Instead, it allows the Department of Health and Human Services to set the frequency of food safety inspections based on a risk-based approach and available resources, which haven’t changed since the audit’s release.

Public Health Protection Bureau Chief Michael Dumond estimates the bill won’t change the number of annual food safety inspections.

The Food Protection Section has roughly seven inspectors who cover more than 4,500 food establishments statewide – meeting just one-third of the federal Food and Drug Administration’s recommended frequency of checks, according to Dumond. While the FDA recommends highest-risk restaurants that seat more than 200 people get inspected four times a year, state inspectors check them every nine months on average, Dumond said. “If we had the additional resources to inspect, we would like to see the frequency go up,” he said.

The Food Protection Section requested four additional inspectors this year, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu did not fund the positions in his budget, records show. The size of the Food Protection Section has declined in recent years, from a total of 16 workers in 2012 to 14 now, according to budget documents.

“We’re at a point where we would like to have more inspectors, but we have to understand there are other agencies and other populations being served that need additional resources,” Dumond said.

At a brief House hearing on the bill on Wednesday, only HHS officials and Republican Sen. Sharon Carson testified.

The legislation would eliminate the Food Protection agency’s duty to inspect summer camp mess halls or nursing home cafeterias, which are already checked and licensed by different branches of state government. While the audit found the state rarely inspects agricultural fairs, the bill doesn’t address that issue. Temporary food establishments remain exempt from state food licensing law under the legislation.

Dumond couldn’t recall any recent foodborne-illness outbreaks. According to the audit, foodborne illnesses in the United States affect an estimated 48 million people each year, killing 3,000 and costing $14.1 billion. In New Hampshire, more than 700 cases of foodborne illness were reported in 2012, at an estimated cost of $681,000.

The state’s Food Protection Section is in charge of inspecting restaurants, cafeterias, bars and processing plants, sampling food, licensing establishments, overseeing recalls and checking in on complaints.

Several municipalities inspect their own food establishments, including most cities. They are: Manchester, Concord, Nashua, Portsmouth, Keene, Rochester, Derry, Bedford, Salem, Plaistow, Exeter, Berlin, Claremont, Merrimack and Dover.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)