HAMILTON, NJ -- During a marathon meeting of the Hamilton Board of Health Wednesday night, the cause and impact of the failure to inspect the vast majority of local retail food establishments last year was examined.
Information compiled by Township officials, and reviewed by TAPinto Hamilton/Robbinsville, regarding the inspections of Hamilton retail food establishments found that 332 of the 509 such businesses were not inspected in 2018. The list of uninspected retail food establishments offers a full-range of eateries from take-out restaurants to food stores to fine dining restaurants.
Lisa Surtees, chief registered environmental health specialist for the Hamilton Township Department of Health answered questions for more than an hour from Council members empanneled as the local Board of Health. Embattled township health officer Jeff Plunkett did not attend the meeting because of an on-going appeal regarding the state Office of Public Health proposed revocation of his health inspector license.
Surtees said that 185 retail food establishment inspections have already been completed this year with a goal to inspect all by the end of the year. She added that all 34 Township camps have been inspected and most of the 11 pools will be inspected for the required second time this year in the coming weeks.
When asked by members of the Board of Health why a majority of the retail food establishments were not inspected in 2018, Surtees pointed to staffing shortages noting that one of the full-time health inspectors was on an extended leave because of a high-risk pregnancy.
Councilwoman Ileana Schirmer asked if there was any planning done in anticipation of the inspector's family leave. "No," Surtees replied. "Mr Plunkett was looking into it."
Schirmer further questioned whether or not three health inspectors were sufficient for a town the size of Hamilton with the number of establishments leading to an acknoweldgement from Surtees that it would be helpful for the Township to hire another full-time health inspector.
Council President Jeff Martin raised concerns regarding the number of more "at-risk" facilities that were not inspected in 2018 such as dine-in restaurants and specialized food processing facilities. Surtees indicated that several restaurants were inspected at the end of 2017 so the priority to inspect in 2018 was given to other establishments.
Noting that Hamilton Township's annual report states that a yearly inspection of all (retail food establishments) need to occur in accordance with state annual inspections Martin questioned Business Administrator Dave Kenny as to why the practice was not carried out.
"That's a guideline, Mr. Martin," Kenny replied. "The state regulations say that retail food establishments, and there's different risk levels, and none of them are required to be inspected annually.".
Kenny noted that the Administration has been reaching out to look to hire another food inspector, a comment that raised Councilman Rick Tighe's concern that the hiring of a new health inspector by the end of the year may not be possible because due to funding consideration and time it may take to post a job opening and fill the position.
While several members of the public thanked Surtees for attending the meeting and addressing concerns they also complained that neither Plunkett nor Mayor Kelly Yaede were in attendance to address health and safety issues surrounding the inspections.
A retail food establishment does not need to be inspected in order to have their food license renewed, officials noted.
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