PEER Targets Health Inspections

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A legislative watchdog says Mississippi's Department of Health is not inspecting restaurants and food facilities like they should. The report in question was issued by the Legislative Committee on Performance, Evaluation and Expenditure Review, also known as "PEER".

The report alleges the State Department of Health, charged with the responsibility of examining food facilities and restaurants for proper food care and cleanliness, is not doing it often enough, nor did it find sufficient follow up visits for inspections it does perform.

If true, it appears the problem may be as simple as a lack of employees.

"It's very important. It's public health, which is always number one," said Rick Beal, president of the Meridian Restaurant Association.

Beal said he can't emphasize enough the importance of restaurant inspections. That's why this recent report has serious implications.

PEER surveyed several district health departments around the state and found they were not surveying food facilities at least four times a year. On top of that, the report found the department was not making the required follow ups within 30 days. The problem appears to be a lack of inspectors and environmentalists.

"I think there is a problem with the lack of staffing," Beal said. "Especially with all the restaurants in Meridian and Lauderdale County."

Contacted Friday by Newscenter 11, the Mississippi Health Department's main office in Jackson confirmed it does concur with the report's findings and have been working to make the necessary changes.

A spokesman said the agency is also actively recruiting for additional personnel. It even asked the legislature for help in fixing the shortage. But they stop short of saying there was any major health risks.

You are probably asking yourself if you should you be cautious when eating out or in a public food facility. The truth is, most likely not, but you should be aware there are some problems.

For instance, according to the report, in our district, out of the 413 food facilities, 20 percent are not receiving the required health inspections.