Washington, DC - Food service establishments in Ingham County, Michigan (home of Lansing) have an unprecedented failure rate when compared to similar counties across the country, according to a suppressed county health department report released by PEER today. Nearly 30% of Ingham County food establishments failed health inspections.
For a restaurant to fail, a food sanitarian must find 4 or more "critical violations" during the inspection process, the failure breakpoint indicating conditions that could lead to food poisoning.
Most food establishments are inspected twice per year. Each inspection takes, on average, four hours. In 1998, there were 3,594 critical violations among the 1,466 food sanitary inspections in 1998. The average critical violation count per inspection increased 21% between 1997 and 1999, rising from 2.03 critical violations per food establishment in 1997 to 2.45 in 1998.
The leading violations were:
1) poor hand-washing and/or soap and sanitary towel/devices not provided (27%),
2) food temperature violations (21%),
3) necessary toxic items improperly stored, labeled or used (16%), and the presence or evidence of insects and rodents (9%).
Table Service restaurants (bar and food) had the highest rate of inspection failure. In 1998, of 200 such establishments, 118 failed inspection, a 59% failure rate. Fast food outlets failed 28% of inspections. Of 504 burger, pizza and other fast food outlets, 140 had 4 or more "critical violations
The PEER report offers a rare glimpse into the actual health practices within the food service industry since state regulations do not require public notice of failing establishments. In 1999, Ingham County embarked upon a "data democratization" effort to inform citizens about environmental health issues but the resulting reports were never released to the public.
"This information should be freely available to people in Ingham County," said Eric Wingerter, national field director for PEER, which released an uncensored report about the county's water quality last week. "Taxpayers should be asking why the county spent nearly a quarter million dollars to assemble research and then buried the information."