The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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April 20, 2013

Food inspection program to have change in oversight

Change is coinciding with retirement of county's inspector

CLINTON — The state of Iowa will take over control of inspecting and licensing food and lodging establishments in Clinton County beginning next month.

As of May 1, all renewals, applications and questions related to food and lodging establishments licensure and payments will be directed to the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.   

Clinton County Environmental Health Director Bob Summers said the change in responsibility is timed to coincide with the retirement of Clinton County's current inspector, Dean Siem.  

Siem has been a contracted inspector with Clinton County for two years. Prior to working as the Clinton County inspector, Siem served as an inspector in Scott County for 18 years and worked for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals as a statewide trainer for food safety inspections.  

Instead of Clinton County having its own inspector, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals will hire a permanent inspector who will live in Scott County and will be responsible for inspections in Clinton, Cedar and Muscatine counties. State officials anticipate this person will be in place by July 1.

In the interim, the Williamsburg and Dubuque inspectors will provide inspections in Clinton County. Low-risk food service establishments are inspected once a year while high-risk food establishments are inspected twice a year. Inspectors also follow up on food safety complaints.  

Summers said employees and owners of the approximately 300 food establishments in Clinton County won't be fazed by the responsibility switch.   

"It really should be a smooth transition," Summers said. "And I doubt if they'll notice a big difference once they get the new inspector in place."

Siem said he plans to leave notes on the master list of food establishments in Clinton County in order to make the switch easier for the interim and permanent inspectors. Also, all records will be transferred to the state electronically.  

"I'm going to make it as smooth as can be," Siem said.

In addition to coinciding with Siem's retirement, the change comes at a time when more counties are turning inspection responsibilities back to the state. In recent years, Summers said, nearly 20 counties that had a contract with the state to have their own inspectors have turned their contracts back to the state to be covered by a regional inspector.  

In Clinton County, the license fees have become insufficient to cover the costs of the program. The fees range from $50 to $300 depending on the type of food establishment and the volume of food it sells. Because fees are set by the state Legislature, the county can't adjust them to make the program financially sustainable.

If the county had to hire a full-time inspector to replace Siem, the program would run at around a $30,000 loss, which would need to be covered by tax dollars, Summers said.  

"This will be a big plus because it will be a savings to the county and not a drop-off in service," Summers said. "That's why other counties are doing it."

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