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Douglas County may nix surprise health inspections

It's not polite to show up unannounced. Unless you're a sanitarian.

A routine policy revision to the department of public health's licensing and inspection and enforcement policies spurred some debate at Tuesday's Douglas County board meeting.

Commissioner Charlie Meyer, owner of Fat Daddy's Bar and Grill, suggested that the county's licensed sanitarians make more of an effort to speak with an owner or the manager on duty (MOD) when popping in for a visit.

"They should at least try to find the MOD and show their credentials up front," Meyer said. "In the past that hasn't always been done and it has created a very poor start."

Meyer described the relationship between a business owner and a sanitarian as a partnership.

"We need to work together," Meyer said.

A solution to what can be a tense investigation may be a change in the practice of surprise inspections. Public Health Director Sandy Tubbs said Olmstead County's environmental health program has been awarded a federal grant to look into different health inspection methods.

"Rather than have an unscheduled, unannounced inspection, they actually schedule it in advance," Tubbs said. "They are finding that they are much more productive."

Olmstead has invited Douglas County to be a partner in the food standard process evaluation funded by the grant. Douglas County sanitarians have conducted inspections with Olmstead sanitarians to see if the new methodology would work in another area.

Tubbs said the Minnesota Department of Health has neither endorsed nor condoned scheduled inspections. Announcing visits is dependent on a county's policy guidelines.

"Look for us to head in that direction," Tubbs said.

Commissioner Jerry Johnson suggested if the policy is changed that a provision would need to be included to allow for an unannounced visit at least once every five years.

The current policy was altered slightly to allow for a phone communication in lieu of a face-to-face post-inspection discussion between the sanitarian and owner or manager if the owner or manager is not on site at the time of inspection.

"Sometimes it is not possible to meet face-to-face," Tubbs said. "It certainly is our preference."

The Douglas and Pope Counties Environmental Health committee established license application procedures and set a fee schedule effective August 27, 2013. Establishments affected include food, beverage, lodging, manufactured home parks, recreational camping areas, youth camps and swimming pools and spas. The committee works with the Minnesota Department of Health to protect the public's health by preventing the transmission of communicable diseases and environmental health hazards.

Risk levels and inspection frequencies are outlined in the committee's policies and procedures. A high-risk establishment, for instance a public pool or motel that serves food requiring extensive preparation, will be inspected by a registered sanitarian annually. Medium-risk food and beverage providers, serving food with minimal handling, are inspected once every 18 months and low-risk establishments are checked every two years.

School inspections are done according to assigned risk levels or as outlined in the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, whichever is more frequent.

In relation to area schools, commissioners approved a school nursing contract between Douglas County Public Health and Districts 213 (Osakis Public School), 206 (Zion Lutheran and New Testament Christian Schools) and 2908 (Brandon-Evansville Public School). School health services will be provided by a registered nurse with Douglas County Public Health at a cost of $49 per hour.

Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

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