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Local experts weigh in on restaurant inspection after Indianapolis restaurant shut down

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Posted at 11:24 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-03 23:26:03-05

INDIANAPOLIS — WRTV is taking a closer look at restaurant health inspections after a northeast-side restaurant was forced to close because of a viral video showing food in containers on the floor and a mouse in the building.

"If they know the public health reasons why we want to keep food off the floor and not have pests and keep things at proper temperatures, then that's going to empower them and lead to reduced outbreaks of illnesses from food," said Graham McKeen, Director of Public and Environmental Health at Indiana University.

It's an important level of education and training McKeen said needs to be re-instilled in the food service industry to keep something like this from happening again.

"Myself and everybody here [on Monday] do not want these people to be in business in this location, in our community at all," said Councilor Keith Graves.

"I want to talk about the lack of funding we have with our health departments and health in general," said Rep. Robin Shackleford.

On Monday, Shackleford brought up the lack of funding for health departments across the state and how it's negatively impacting a system designed to keep us safe.

"We're going to be asking for about $250 million a year to bring us up to date on where we need to be for healthcare, health codes and health issues," said Shackleford.

McKeen shared some of the same frustrations and said additional funding would be the start.

"We're near the bottom in public health funding. The staffing and support and the resources are limited, and then we have like 95 health jurisdictions across the state. So, getting that standardization of policies, processes, and the standardizations of the inspectors, let alone the frequency of inspections can be really challenging," said McKeen

WRTV's Amber Grigley sent a list of questions to the Marion County Public Health Department about how often inspections are conducted. The department said retail food establishments are inspected at regular intervals based on risk.

How often are restaurants inspected?
"Retail food establishments are inspected at regular intervals based on risk. Studies have shown that the types of food served, the food preparation processes used, the volume of food, and the population served all have a bearing on the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors in retail and foodservice establishments. The Department of Food & Consumer Safety conducts routine inspections 2 – 3 times a year at each retail food establishment based on establishment criteria."

Where can people find those results?
"Inspection reports and inspection history can be found at https://hhcwebfood.hhcorp.org/default.aspx [hhcwebfood.hhcorp.org]. Inspection reports are also available by request to our department. The Department of Food & Consumer Safety will be making improvements to the search function of this application as part of department initiatives through our CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program grant. We’ve made changes to our licenses for the 2023 year and have added a QR code. Retail food establishments need to post their licenses at restaurants. Scanning the QR code on the license will take you directly to our website where you can review an establishment’s inspection history."

If a person sees something at a restaurant, how do they go about reporting it? 
"We welcome consumer complaints as part of our mission to prevent foodborne illness within Marion County. Consumers can call – 317-221-2222, email foodsafe@marionhealth.org or submit a complaint online at https://marionhealth.org/program-complaint-forms/ [marionhealth.org]"

How does MCPHD follow up on the complaint once reported?  
"Complaints are reviewed as they are received to determine severity and action. The department responds to complaints within 24 hours or the next business day. Some complaints warrant being treated as emergencies and will have a same day investigation. Examples of emergencies include fires, sewage backups, interruptions in water service or similar concerns that would warrant an immediate closure."

What could lead to a shutdown similar to this?   
"The Indiana Retail Food Sanitation Requirements 410 IAC 7-24 specify situations where an establishment would need to cease operations.   Inspectors have the ability to make additional determinations of when an establishment must close to protect public health."

Curt Brantingham, the Marion County Public Health Department
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from Curt Brantingham, the Marion County Public Health Department

"The FDA and the state department of health just say that medium or high-risk facilities should be inspected more often than low risk. They don't really give us a number," said McKeen.

Back in October, the health department inspected the restaurant after a complaint about a family of five that got sick after eating there.

"To see a video like we saw this weekend is concerning," said McKeen.

The Marion County Public Health Department said it's working to make it easier for the public to search for inspection reports online and file complaints.

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