New Castle News

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June 20, 2014

Food safety is concern

NEW CASTLE — Patrick McGuire wants to know what you’re putting into your mouth — and that it won’t make you sick.

“Public safety is our ultimate goal,” said McGuire, who is the health officer for the city of New Castle.

McGuire believes his job is misunderstood.

“At least 80 percent of the job is education, telling people what they should be doing,” he said. “Ten percent is inspection and 10 percent enforcement.”

One of his duties is to inspect restaurants and other establishments that serve food to the public.

“We want to be sure that hot foods are served hot, cold foods are cold, refrigerators are at the right temperature and that the staff and kitchen are clean.”

Establishments outside city limits are inspected by representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

“Under state law, all restaurants in Pennsylvania are to be inspected at least once each year,” McGuire said.

Generally this happens at the time of license renewal. All licenses are good for one year, he explained, adding he can and does return if he gets a complaint about a particular eatery.

All inspections are unannounced.

“I can come any time during my regular business hours,” he said.

Because McGuire’s work hours include nights and weekends, he noted, he has made official visits, “as late as 8:30 p.m. and as early as 6 a.m. I can come in on Sundays and the day after Thanksgiving.”

His hours “keep businesses on their toes,” McGuire pointed out.

“If they know my work hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, they know I won’t be in before 10 a.m. and will never come in after 2 p.m.,” he said. “So a lot of things they are supposed to be doing, they might not do.”

If a restaurant passes inspection, McGuire said, he won’t return for a year, unless he receives a complaint.

“But if they fail or are found to be non-compliant, I’ll be back.”

And then there’s the matter of re-inspection fees.

A license fee and license renewal, which includes an annual inspection, is available for $150. This same fee is charged for each re-inspection if follow up visits are needed. “There is an incentive to pass inspections,” he pointed out.

“Sometimes the process takes a while. I give them time to correct whatever noncompliance we find.”

Some issues can be corrected in an hour. Others might take a day, a week or longer, he explained. If identified problems go unresolved, the operator’s license could be suspended or rescinded.

McGuire said every business is responsible for inspecting food orders when they arrive, determining it meets the proper temperature and quality.

Typically, McGuire said, he is not present when food is received.

“Restaurants can refuse shipments if they are of poor quality,” he noted.

“Our concern is the health and safety of people.”

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)

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