Florida House Bill 5311, signed by Gov. Charlie Crist, eliminated state food safety inspections at hospitals, daycare centers, and nursing homes in the state of Florida when it went into effect July 1.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), with the passage of the bill, the two state agencies formerly responsible for food inspections no longer have the authority or mandate to inspect hospitals, daycare centers, or nursing homes.  

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Department of Health are all impacted by the bill, which was introduced as a budget-cutting measure.

hospital-food1-featured.jpgIn “State’s Food Safety Programs Have Improved Performance and Financial Self-Sufficiency (pdf),” the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability found that “…[the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services] and [the Department of Health] have taken steps to increase financial self-sufficiency of their food inspection programs.”

According to the report, which was released in June, increased food inspection fees–including re-inspection fees–by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services resulted in a $1.3 million surplus for the department.

The Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability found that the Department of Health had increased food safety inspection fees, but that its regulatory costs continued to exceed program revenues. 

“In April 2009, the department increased annual sanitation certificate fees by 19 percent to 31 percent, depending on the type of establishment. Officials reported that these fees covered an estimated 47 percent of program costs in Fiscal Year 2009-10, an increase from 30 percent in Fiscal Year 2007-08.  [Department of Health] officials plan to implement additional fee increases over several years so that the program will be financially self-sufficient by Fiscal Year 2014-15. Program officials plan to evaluate progress toward financial self-sufficiency at the end of Fiscal Year 2009-10,” the report states.

According to the report, the Department of Health was also improving self-sufficiency by better targeting inspections of high risk food facilities and establishing new inspection frequency requirements–effective October 2010–that are consistent with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations.  

The report continues, “These new requirements will reduce the frequency of inspections for facilities that do not serve highly susceptible populations.  Under the revised requirements, 1,200 facilities will go from two inspections a year to one while 1,500 facilities will be subject to three rather than four inspections per year.”  

Hospitals, daycare centers, and nursing homes all serve highly susceptible populations.  

Inspections of prisons and restaurants will continue.  

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

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

Since 1995, CSPI has counted 15 separate foodborne illness outbreaks linked to Florida facilities like those that will no longer be inspected by the state.

The Palm Beach Post reported Friday that while most of Florida will be impacted by the changes, the Palm Beach County Health Department will continue to inspect food service operations at daycare centers.

“We try to inspect the entire day daycare-ecoli-outbreak-iphone.jpgcare facility four times a year,” health department spokesman Tim O’Connor told the Post.  He added that Palm Beach and Pinellas counties are the only two he is aware of that have stricter rules than the state regulations.  

“Florida consumers deserve more from their legislature than budget cuts to critical public health services,” Klein continued. “A budget savings on the front end, by eliminating inspections, can lead to huge costs later–when people get sick from foodborne illness. And if it’s your child, or parent, or sick loved one…you can bet those savings weren’t worth it.”

Earlier this year, more than 40 people became ill with Clostridium perfringens infections and three people died after eating chicken salad at a Louisiana hospital.

Correction:  This article originally stated that the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation was impacted by the passage of House Bill 5311.  The department was not impacted by House Bill 5311 and has not eliminated or cut inspections of Florida’s hotels or restaurants.