Hundreds of Nebraska food safety inspections running late

Nebraska food safety officials are late inspecting hundreds of restaurants, meat markets and other food establishments, according to a new state audit.

nebraska.restThe problem affects nearly one of every three food facilities inspected by the State Department of Agriculture. Food safety checks are more than four years overdue in some cases, the audit said.

Douglas, Lancaster and Hall Counties are inspected by local health departments working under contract with the state. The audit raises questions about whether those inspections are being done on time, but state and local officials said that conclusion is based on faulty state records.

In addition, the audit found that state agriculture inspectors are overdue in checking the accuracy of 14 percent of weighing and measuring devices, ranging from the scales used at supermarket checkout counters to fuel pumps to railroad weight scales. The oldest cases were 11 to 23 years late. The audit does not provide details such as the names or locations of the establishments involved.

The late inspections of food establishments and of weighing and measuring devices were the top concerns raised by an Agriculture Department audit recently released by State Auditor Charlie Janssen’s office.

Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, an Agriculture Department spokeswoman, did not dispute the audit findings.

She said Wednesday that eliminating the backlog of inspections is a “huge priority” for the department and has been a focus of efforts since the current food program manager started in February.

“The audit report confirmed what we were already working on,” Kriz-Wickham said. “We definitely need to get to all of them (overdue inspections) that are on the list.”

She said department officials aim to catch up by January on inspections of facilities deemed at high risk because they prepare or serve food that could potentially cause illness. The goal for catching up with other inspections is June 1.

The Agriculture Department’s food program is responsible for inspecting 6,135 food facilities across 90 of the state’s 93 counties. The department contracts with local health departments to do food safety checks in Douglas, Lancaster and Hall Counties.

Under Agriculture Department policy, inspections are to be done every six months at the highest risk places, such as full-service restaurants, school cafeterias, nursing home kitchens and food processing plants.

Inspections are to be done every 12 months for medium-risk places with limited food preparation, such as fast-food restaurants and cook-to-order kitchens. Low-risk places, which handle only prepackaged or bulk foods, are to be inspected every 18 to 24 months.

Based on department records, the audit found that inspections were overdue for 1,882 facilities, including 1,232 high-risk facilities.

In addition, as of June 8, there were 94 newly licensed food establishments that had never been inspected.