City’s Public Health Division Holds Series of Informational Meeting on Food Service Inspections; More Staff Needed to Speed up the Process?

D. Michele Sturgeon and Michael Russell at Last Night’s Informational Meeting at City Hall.

By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,196)

“My priority is to educate those with food service establishments, not to whack them,” said D. Michele Sturgeon, CFPM CPO, the city’s inspector who was hired last August 1st. Sturgeon said this at an informational meeting hosted by the City’s Department of Health & Human Services last night at city hall. The meeting was the third in a series of similar meetings to be held throughout the fall. Seven hundred and fifty letters were mailed to food service establishments in Portland, based on licensing information provided by the city.

Previous to last August, the inspection of food service establishments had been under the purvue of the Code Enforcement Office. Most likely due to mounting criticism from those in the restaurant/coffee shop business, inspections were moved from the Code Enforcement Office to the Department of Health & Human Services. Criticisms of the inspectors ranged from unprofessional, unorganized, way too slow, to nasty and rude. Perhaps that was attributable to a lack of proper record keeping, too many inspectors involved in a way range of inspections (building, etc.) and not communicating with each other. “Food inspections fit better with our department than they did with the Code Enforcement office,” said Mike Russell, Manager, Environmental Health & Safety office. Russell was part of the informational meeting along with Sturgeon. Another change Sturgeon is working on is updating the city’s old and outdated ordinance to be in alignment with the State’s ordinance.

Despite Sturgeon’s impressive competence and professionalim, it still begs the question is one health inspector enough to get inspections done in a timely fashion; one of the major complaints of small start-ups, remains to be seen. With about 750 food service businesses, new ones opening up frequently and the soon to be food trucks on the street soon, perhaps the city council will have to address the issue of a larger inspection staff.

For more information on the series of informational meetings, please email msturgeon@portlandmaine.gov or call (207) 756-8016.