Trumbull health department struggles with staffing and mandates

TRUMBULL — Changes to health inspection requirements at local eateries will not only be a burden on restaurants but also the town’s health department, according to local health officials.

Trumbull Health Director Luci Bango said the department is already stretched thin — with only one part-time sanitarian and two open full-time positions to fill. And state mandates, such as the newly adopted FDA Food Code, are making keeping up with inspections nearly impossible, she said.

“There is a crisis right now in public health… and that is statewide,” Bango said. “The state needs to do something right now, not five years from now.

“COVID brought the importance of our department and those like us to light, now that focus has all gone away,” Bango said. “All health directors have had it … and we’re frustrated.”

State officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Bango’s statements.

Bango’s latest frustration stems from last month’s institution of the FDA Food Code. The state, in 2017, began adoption of the new requirements which would replace the Connecticut Public Health Code food safety inspections. The new rules were to be adopted in 2019.

Bango said delays — mainly due to the pandemic — pushed the adoption date to what at the time was an unknown. That was until Feb. 9, when health directors statewide were told the new rules go into effect Feb. 17.

“Local health departments were anticipating several months to transition from the current (code) to the FDA Food Code,” she stated in a letter dated Feb. 28 to all local eaters, “unfortunately, this is not the case.”

Bango said the new rules kept the main components of food safety and best practices, but now all food establishments are required to register with the state Department of Health before a license is issued or renewed by the Trumbull Health Department.

The new system does not provide a “pass or fail” grade or number score. Violations cited during inspections will be categorized as “priority,” “priority foundation,” and “core.” Those with “priority” violations must be reinspected within 72 hours, “priority foundation” within 10 days, and “core” within 90 days from the initial inspection.

The issue, Bango says, is that the majority of sanitarians are not properly trained to handle the inspections.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “There has been no official training. The state did not even provide the new forms prior to the start date.

The scarcity of training sessions, combined with the lack of certified inspectors has created a situation where potential hires are able to shop around for the best offer. She says Trumbull offers a competitive salary but competition for new hires is intense.

Trumbull right now has one part-time sanitarian, who is responsible for inspections of not only local restaurants but also new construction, septic systems, day care, nail salons, tobacco establishments and pools.

The sanitarian is on site one day a week, according to Bango, who while also being certified for inspections, has to run the entire department. She said she needs to be available for inspections too, as her schedule permits.

Trumbull has some 200 eateries, and in February, the department completed inspections on six establishments under the old reporting method. All six — 7 Eleven, Haagen Dazs, Charley’s Philly Steak, Dunkin’ Donuts, 100 Hawley Lane, Dunkin’ Donuts, 5065 Main St., and Starbucks, 100 Quality St.—passed inspection with scores above 87 on a scale of 1 to 100.

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