Kane agency cites potential danger from short-staffed food inspections
By Matt Brennan For The Courier-News June 26, 2012 1:14PM
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:22AM
GENEVA — Barb Jeffers, who is filling in as interim director for the Kane County Health Department, made the pitch to County Board members Tuesday to hire two environmental health specialists.
The department is short staffed by two positions, and that can quickly become a safety issue — especially with food inspections, Jeffers said.
There are more than 1,700 food establishments in Kane County that require a permit. Many of these establishments are inspected one to three times a year. Health Department inspectors also are tasked with making sure the fare at summer festivals meets food safety standards.
“I think this is a matter of public safety, especially with all these festivals going on,” Public Health Committee member Tom Van Cleave, R-Batavia, said. “If we have two vacancies we need to be filling them.”
The committee approved filling the two positions, which became vacant in March and May. It will move on to the Executive Committee in July.
In 2011, the department’s environmental health specialists took more than 4,800 food-related phone calls, according to the presentation made to the committee. While many of those were related to restaurants inquiring about regulations, many also were complaint driven.
There were 3,300 food inspections, with 400 temporary food inspections for festivals on top of that. There were nearly 60 food-borne illness complaints registered.
The county issued more than 1,600 critical violations in food safety over the course of 2011, according to the presentation. Those violations could range from refrigerator temperature to a restaurant employee failing to wash their hands.
“That concerns me,” said committee member Melisa Taylor, R-Sugar Grove. “There’s potential for big problems.”
The seven environmental health specialists currently employed by the county are taking on the workload of inspecting the food establishments and festivals by working overtime, Jeffers said. The extra payroll tab has stretched into the thousands of dollars every week, she said.
“We don’t have a choice with the summer being so heavy in festivals,” she said.
In addition to food safety, environmental health specialists also handle complaints regarding water safety, lead poisoning prevention, property maintenance, and other regulated environmental ordinances. The department’s budget shows expected revenue of $1,189,051 in fees from inspections this year.
The inspectors’ workload is expected to increase, as they will soon be handling more property maintenance complaints once handled by the Animal Control Department. The complaints formerly handled by Animal Control will now be distributed between development and public health.