Report: Florida skimps on food inspections

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A public-interest group warns that food inspections at Florida hospitals, nursing homes and day-care centers will be less rigorous under a new state law.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs and the state Department of Health were stripped of their inspection authority and mandate at those facilities.

The change was contained in House Bill 5311, which was signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist last month.

“Florida politicians were clearly not thinking about their young children or their aging parents when they passed this bill,” Sarah Klein, a staff attorney at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Food Safety News.

“These consumers — and anyone who is immuno-compromised — are already at greater risk of being hospitalized from food-borne illness. Ending food safety inspections in the kitchens that feed those populations is like taking seat belts out of their cars and hoping no one has an accident,” Klein said.

Susan Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health, confirmed that her agency, “per HB 5311, will not be conducting food safety inspections in hospitals, day-cares and nursing homes.”

While DOH inspections will continue at restaurants and prisons, Smith referred other inquiries to the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and Department of Children and Families.

AHCA spokeswoman Shelisha Durden said the new law “does not change the Agency for Health Care Administration’s regulatory oversight for hospitals and nursing homes, and we will continue with our current oversight protocol.

“The agency conducts surveys in nursing homes every nine to 15 months, and sometimes more if issues are noted. The agency’s surveys of nursing homes include the storage, preparation and delivery of food to residents.”

As for hospitals, Durden noted, “Most hospitals are accredited; however (AHCA) can and does conduct complaint surveys in Florida hospitals.

“For hospitals, we would place concerns under professional staff, governing body and infection control, and nutritional care (which includes reference to sanitary kitchen/food-service operations) depending on the concerns.”

But critics of the new law argue that neither AHCA nor any other state agency is staffed or equipped to fully fill the inspection role vacated by DOH and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.