New Hampshire audit finds state falling behind on food inspections, one facility went 15 years without review

Live free or die. to yet another feature about restaurant inspections, nearly one in five of the New Hampshire’s highest-risk food establishments weren’t inspected at all in 2013 or 2014, despite a federal recommendation they be inspected several times a year.

During that two-year period, the 474 highest-risk establishments in New Hampshire – high-volume food processing plants and large restaurants and dining halls – went an average of 427 days since their last state inspection. One unnamed facility went uninspected for 5,270 days, nearly 15 years.

Those are just a few findings outlined in a recent state audit that reveals flaws in the Food Protection Section, a branch of the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services charged with preventing food illnesses and ensuring consumer safety.

State auditors found food inspectors lacked oversight of towns that run their own food protection programs, rarely inspected agricultural fairs or soup kitchens, and didn’t properly collect and manage fees, resulting in an estimated loss of $1.2 million to state coffers between 2013 and 2014. During the two-year audit period, officials found state inspections decreased and complaints rose.

The Department of Health and Human Services agreed with many of the audit’s recommendations, and said it is pursing a new public health accreditation and has plans to launch a database this fall that will shift some critical operations online and give the public electronic access to inspection results.

But the department also pointed out that in recent years the Legislature has been rolling back food safety regulations and the Food Protection Section, made up of 15 employees, has faced staff reductions.

Since 2008, the food inspection program, which oversees roughly 5,352 food establishments in the state, has lost a shellfish supervisor, a food inspector and a food emergency response specialist and inspector.