Audit: Health inspectors go easy on restaurant violations

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Food safety inspectors in New York state failed to take action in response to hundreds of serious health code violations, according to a state audit published Friday.

The report analyzed records of more than 400,000 inspections between January 2014 and September 2017. Auditors from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office sampled inspection reports from 10 local health agencies and found 984 safety violations categorized as Class I — the most serious classification — yet inspectors took no enforcement action regarding 73 percent of the violations.

Enforcement actions can include fines, administrative orders or even closure. According to the audit, inspectors should take some kind of action in response to Class I violations, or at least offer an explanation for why they did not.

Local inspectors often failed to justify their decision not to pursue enforcement actions, auditors reported.

The report found hundreds of restaurants with serious violations didn’t properly refrigerate food and allowed food to be touched by sick employees, DiNapoli, a Democrat, said in a statement accompanying the audit.

“Failing to hold those with serious violations accountable could be a recipe for disaster,” DiNapoli said.

Auditors also found errors in inspection data and problems with the way information about inspections is reported and shared between offices.

In New York state, inspections of restaurants and other facilities serving food are carried out by a mix of state and local health departments. In some counties, local health departments do the work while in 21 counties, state officials do.

Inspectors look for unsanitary conditions, food contamination, pests or other violations of the state health code at more than 90,000 restaurants, cafeterias, bars and other food service establishments around the state.

Local health departments blamed a lack of funding or staff for the problems identified by the state, according to the audit.

State health officials acknowledged some of the problems and said they would review policies to ensure local inspectors are following the rules.

In its formal response, the state’s Department of Health noted that often, serious violations identified by inspectors are rectified immediately by staff and require no further action.

Additionally, agency spokeswoman Jill Montag noted the auditors found no indication that inspectors violated the law.