Published Date Written by Bob HigginsIn the last two weeks, Portland restaurants have been under a spotlight glare for what some are calling laxity in inspections. It turns out they are not alone.
Federal requirements state that each school cafeteria must be inspected twice per year, but filings with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration show a continuing trend in failing to make those inspections in Maine.
In school year 2008 to 2009, 14 Maine schools were never inspected, increasing to 24 in 2010 and 45 in 2011; the number of schools that submitted at least one inspection report for 2011 was 562 out of a possible 610 schools in Maine, according to FDA documentation.
Schools that met the required number of inspections for the state were four schools in 2008-09, 24 schools in 2010, but dropped again to a total of three in 2011, the documents show.
Lisa Roy, program director at the Maine Centers for Disease Control Inspections Division, said, "The FDA requirement is an unfunded mandate. We do inspect each school at least once every year, and only re-inspect on failure. Last year, none failed. The previous year, only four failed out of 643."
Roy added, "I can't speak to why the FDA did this mandate. I feel the schools are in a low risk category for the fact that both state and municipal inspectors are in the schools. They are required to have certified food protection managers, as well as follow the critical access points guidelines."
Nationally, Maine was ranked at the top in numbers of schools that did not meet the FDA requirement in 2007, with 98.2 percent of schools failing to meet the requirement.
Other facilities, such as nursing homes, are inspected by the hospital licensing division.
When asked if reports for restaurants or schools are available online for public access, Roy said they were not. "We've never had state inspection reports online. People can call, if they have questions or complaints about a specific restaurant, and I'd certainly give them that information."
Calls to Portland's municipal health inspector were unanswered at press time.
A 2008 report by USA Today cites that less than half the states met the mandate.
A memo by the regional director of the FDA sent to all school districts stated that "Section 9(h) of the National School Lunch Act requires each SA (State Agency) to monitor and report to the Secretary of Agriculture the number of food safety inspections obtained by institutions that participate in the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program."
The FDA had discussed a fine and fee plan similar to what Portland is planning to propose for states that fail to meet the mandate, but it has not yet implemented that plan.