Although Portland, Maine, has developed a reputation as a foodie paradise, it might also be developing a reputation for moldy, unsafe food.
An incredibly shocking story about the lack of restaurant inspections in Portland recently appeared in a weekly newspaper, The Forecaster. Some restaurants, it seems, have not been inspected in more than four years.
A review of state and municipal restaurant records reveals authorities are not always conducting the annual restaurant inspections required to ensure the establishments comply with food safety laws. In Portland, where the city is delegated inspection authority by the state, some restaurants have not been inspected since 2007.
The article goes on to explain that the state of Maine’s Inspections Division has a goal of inspecting restaurants every two years, a clear violation of the state law requiring inspections every year.
The mold grows a little thicker when we look at the pathetic performance of Portland’s Planning Department, which has responsibility for doing inspections for city restaurants. Penny St. Louis, Director of the Planning Department, thinks it’s OK if restaurants go uninspected.
I’m very comfortable with the way we do inspections and the frequency. If the state wants to come in and inspect our restaurants annually, they can. Do I think each restaurant needs to be inspected annually? I really don’t.
Ensuring that public eateries are safe and healthy places for residents and tourists is a basic responsibility of local and state government, right up there with ensuring that our drinking water is clean and safe.
Frequent, rigorous inspections of kitchens and storage areas by those empowered to impose fines and even close restaurants are absolutely necessary. A “culinary expert” quoted in the Forecaster article suggests that consumers can ascertain the sanitary conditions of restaurants by looking under the tables for crumbs and assessing the neatness of the wait staff.
What I want to know is whether the raw food and supplies in the back of the store are being handled properly. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant or watched “Kitchen Nightmares” knows that even the worst kitchens can hide behind the façade of an attractive dining room.
“Trust but verify” is the standard that should apply here.
Dining out should be exciting and fun, not a crap shoot for moldy food, salmonella poisoning, or worse. The state of Maine and Portland’s Planning Department, which are responsible for inspections, must stop making excuses and start doing their jobs.
And I have to wonder: how would Portland’s restaurateurs feel if every tourist who came here knew about these shameful inspection standards? Do they really believe this information would not worry consumers?
It certainly worries me.