‘It’s a macho thing’ Inspecting the inspectors in Ohio

Friend of the barfblog, Pete Snyder, president of Snyder HACCP, a food safety consulting firm near St. Paul, Minn., told WCPO Cincinnati, “The food code is supposed to be uniform everywhere, but it’s only as uniform as the local inspector.”

pete.snyderDifferences in the restaurant population accounts for much of the variation between jurisdictions, but Snyder said some departments are just more aggressive than others.

“There’s always been in the 30 years I’ve been teaching this macho thing. They rate themselves based on how many deficiencies they find.”

When the city of Sharonville shut down its health department at the end of 2014, food inspection scores dramatically improved at Currie’s Indian restaurant on Lebanon Road.

Hamilton County’s Public Health Department, which took over restaurant inspections for Sharonville this year, cited three violations in a Feb. 12 visit to Curries and no violations on Feb. 24. That’s a far cry from the 24 violations cited by Sharonville inspectors Nov. 19. Or the 23 violations that followed in two December visits.

Sharonville inspectors “didn’t like anything,” said Hiral Agrawal, owner of the buffet-style restaurant that has operated in Sharonville Plaza for four years. “They were trying to give me a hard time.”

Sharonville Mayor Kevin Hardman said he wasn’t familiar with Curries’ enforcement history, but he doesn’t recall any complaints about the city’s food inspectors being too aggressive.

Hardman said the dismantling of the city’s health department was “largely a budgetary move” that city council approved Dec. 16. But the performance of the food safety program is one of the factors that made it hard to gain support for the idea.

A WCPO analysis of inspection records from five local health departments shows Agrawal’s account may not be an isolated incident. Inspection results can vary widely by department.

City of Cincinnati inspectors, for example, wrote an average of 1,355 violations in 2014, three times more than those in Warren County. Clermont County inspectors averaged 8.2 violations for every facility they inspected, more than double Warren County’s rate.

This year’s Dirty Dining database has 37,432 violations observed by 42 inspectors at 5,852 food establishments. That’s up from last year’s total of 32,474 violations at 5,579 locations. In 2013, we tracked 33,334 violations at 5,022 facilities.