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Restaurant Inspections Stir Controversy in Portland, Maine

More restaurants are failing inspections in Portland, Maine because the city has raised its food safety standards without adopting a new law.

The Portland Press Herald found 39 of the city’s 49 restaurants inspected under a new health code have failed to pass. The newspaper’s count was based on city records obtained under a Freedom of Access request filed under Maine law.

Both local restaurant owners and the Maine Restaurant Association claim that higher standards are causing fewer restaurants to pass inspections. Portland city health officials claim the spat of inspection failures are due to customer complaints and new business openings, not a tougher standard.

Dick Grotton, president and chief executive officer of the restaurant association, says Portland’s inspection process has changed, but its food code has not.

A possible departure point came in August 2011 when Portland hired its first health inspector to inspect restaurants. In the past, code officers from the city planning department had handled restaurant inspections.

Groton says it is going to take time for Portland restaurants to catch up to the calls being made by a single inspector.

Portland allows a restaurant to have up to 13 violations, including as many as three critical violations, and still pass inspection. Like other jurisdictions, a critical violation is something that poises an immediate risk of illness or an imminent health risk.

Maine restaurants can generally stay open while correction the non-critical violations. Critical violations must be addressed immediately. Portland has closed five restaurants in recent months that could not made corrections quickly enough.

Four of the closed establishments have since reopened.

Portland restaurant owners say that in the past an inspection might be over in five minutes, whereas now it takes an hour.

Jason Loring, co-owner of the Nosh, told the Press Herald he does not have a problem with that. “It’s all about safety,” he said.

A story on the change in Portland restaurant inspections drew 158 comments in the Press Herald, with most indicating support for the stepped up enforcement.

“They should be strict, this is where people eat for crying out loud,” said a reader known as Mattador64.

Some did express concern about “over-regulation.”

© Food Safety News
  • Amorette

    Over regulation because an inspector is actually doing their job and protecting the health of the public? The horror. I have watched a couple of those “Restaurant Impossible” shows and it is pretty obvious that health inspectors DON’T do their jobs very often.

  • Kiki D

    Restaurant inspectors usually have a couple of hundred or more places to inspect in a year. It is usually required to inspect each place, twice. If food safety was left up to inspectors alone, public safety would be in jeopardy. We depend upon reasonable managers with authority to excercise active managerial control. Know the food safety principles. Train your people. Coach your people. Model those safe behaviors. Discipline your people. If these don’t work, then use your authority to fire your people. One person with a bad attitude or Hepatitis A can ruin your business, your reputation and make trouble (and ill health) for hundreds or thousands, think Jack in the Box, Peanut Corp of America, the list goes on. We do what we can, as regulatory, but it is ultimately up to business to take care of the day-to-day food safety in thousands of food places in our great nation.