Part of being Health Commissioner not only involves tackling large policy issues such as improving the overall health and well-being of Baltimoreans, but also overseeing the activities that health department staff undertake to keep us safe and healthy every day.
I recently had the opportunity to accompany one of our 22 food sanitarians on a site inspection. Chris Iheanacho came to work for the Baltimore City Health Department as an Environmental Sanitarian 15 years ago. Originally from Nigeria, he came to Maryland to attend college, later joining the Bureau of Food Control at BCHD. Chris has stayed in Baltimore for longer than he expected, in part because he enjoys his job so much. It was evident during the afternoon we spent together that he takes pride in the work he does. It was also evident by the way in which he interacted with the store’s owner and manager that he is well respected as someone who is fair and knowledgeable.
His inspection was far more involved than checking expiration dates on canned foods (though he did do this). Chris thoroughly looked for evidence of rodents; checked the temperatures of prepared deli foods to ensure that they were within a safe range; examined waste and food prep areas; and observed and interviewed staff about the store’s policies and procedures. Each of these steps is designed to make sure none of the food served in this grocery store would make a customer sick. Along the way, he took time to educate employees on proper food handling. He also taught me about the details of food storage requirements! At the end of the inspection, Chris wrote a report outlining how the store fared against our safety standards.
Chris’s job is an important one. As an Environmental Sanitarian, he conducts inspections of all Baltimore establishments that serve food—restaurants, grocers, even stores that only sell bags of potato chips. Each of these businesses is subject to a rigorous evaluation to ensure that they meet the Department’s food safety standards, which are designed to protect public health and ensure that all food sold in Baltimore is safe.
Attending this food inspection was an eye-opening experience for me. It was a chance to observe the great work our employees do to protect the health of Baltimoreans; it was also an opportunity to consider how we can improve our efforts. One way to do this is by increasing efficiency. For instance, if Chris and other food inspectors had hand-held computer devices, it would be possible for him to write the final report on site, saving approximately 30 minutes per inspection. Inspectors could dedicate this time to more problematic establishments, which take longer to inspect. We are researching devices now.
Making food inspection data widely available to the public is part of my goal to make the Health Department’s work more transparent. We are currently developing a database that will allow us for the first time to share inspection data with the public. Access to this information will empower consumers to make more informed decisions about where to purchase their food. This project is in line with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s recent executive order to make city government more transparent and efficient. You can check out http://data.baltimorecity.gov/ for more info.
I want to hear from you. How do you think we are doing on food safety in Baltimore?