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State, not Citrus, checking food

Local health department officials are no longer inspecting food establishments or handling food-related complaints since a new law took effect Oct. 1, transferring those responsibilities to other state agencies.

Grocery stores and all establishments where food is prepared, served or stored are now being inspected by regional officials from the state Department of Agriculture.

Restaurants are inspected only by the state Department of Business Regulation, under the new law.

State authorities say the change will make better use of state resources and eventually will save money. It prevents more than one agency from inspecting the same business.

But Charles Bradley, a Health and Rehabilitative Services official in Citrus County, said he thinks the change is a big mistake.

"We thought we were doing a good job as far as the frequency of our inspection and good, thorough inspecting," he said. "Time will tell if the other agencies do as good a job."

Before Oct. 1, local health officials were responsible for inspecting grocery stores and food establishments. Citrus County and 22 other counties had food ordinances that were stricter than the state's, Bradley said.

But under the new system, all county food inspection laws are null and void. Inspections are being done by district officials in the Department of Agriculture, who work out of their own homes.

"I personally think this new system is worse because we're here locally, and we could respond faster and have more authority to shut a place down," Bradley said. "They have to drive long distances to check a business and the long distance would discourage them from rechecking a business."

Ray Collins, state environmental administrator for food programs, said HRS would still be involved in inspections if there is a food-borne disease outbreak.

"Generally, two or more people must get sick to declare a food-borne disease outbreak," Collins said. "If two or more people had similar symptoms and there is a time and place relationship, local inspectors would investigate it."

Collins said local HRS officials still inspect food used by public and private schools, civic and fraternal organizations, bars and lounges, hospitals and nursing homes.