Westchester Legislators to Question Whether Health Dept Cuts are Affecting Food Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 30, 2013

Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)

Westchester Legislators to Question Whether

County Health Dept. Cuts are Affecting Food Safety

White Plains, NY – The Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) is planning to question County Department of Health officials on whether staff reductions over the last three years have compromised food safety at area restaurants and other establishments serving meals to guests.

The BOL’s decision, led by Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL Community Services Committee, follows the news that an apparent food-borne illness sickened possibly hundreds of people last week attending two functions at the Hilton Westchester in Rye Brook.

According to a published report in the Journal News, a County official suggests the norovirus is to blame, and those affected by the illness are being asked to stay home to stop the spread of the food-borne disease.

“While the Hilton Westchester was inspected recently and corrected some outstanding issues, my fear is that other restaurants and places where people gather are not getting the attention they need from our County inspectors,” said Williams, who also serves as a member of the County Board of Health. “I think residents and guests at county establishments want all the reassurances they can get that we are making sure proper sanitary conditions and guidelines are being met here.”

Williams noted that number of sanitarians employed by the County who are in charge of reporting food-borne illnesses, interviewing food handlers and collecting samples of food has decreased from 45 to 38 since 2009, a 14% reduction in staff. At the same time, though, the County reported that it has increased its inspections of eating places by almost 10% (from an estimated 20,057 in 2009 to a planned 21,911 in 2013).

Williams remarked at today’s Community Services Committee meeting that she is planning to have appropriate County officials from the Department of Health and Bureau of Public Health Protection in to speak to the committee next week.

“Any time there is a major public health issue it makes sense to ensure that proper safeguards are in place, and that County employees on the front lines of maintaining the physical well-being of our residents have all of the resources necessary to perform their work,” said BOL Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers). “Since there have been cuts, it’s time to see whether they may have adversely affected our public health mission.”

Legislator Judy Myers (D-Larchmont), a former member of the County Board of Health, noted that reports of illnesses have been called into the Department of Health after events held at the Hilton Westchester over the past two weeks.

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=Bazzo 05/01/13

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