Monday, September 19, 2011

Health Inspectors: Always Check ID’s ... For Real

"Never let anyone walk around your restaurant unaccompanied."

Last month we talked about Health Inspectors and the inspection process. I emphasized you must always ask for ID. I remember years ago teaching in Prince George’s County and I was informed by some of my students that there was a gentleman entering restaurants in their local area and claiming to be their local Health Inspector. He was dressed nicely enough in a work shirt and tie. A lot of the restaurant managers and owners would just let him walk about to do his “inspections” … alone! 

Never let anyone walk around your restaurant unaccompanied. It turned out eventually that he was not a local Health Inspector, but a scam artist. When no one was looking, he would take cash from the registers. Last I heard, some of my students told me that he had been caught and was in jail. While writing last month’s article, I wondered about him and Googled the details and I came across a few other scams that target restaurants in Maryland and nationally. 

Most recently some restaurants have been receiving phone calls from someone claiming to be a Health Inspector to schedule an emergency inspection appointment due to a customer complaint. The restaurant owners are given a special code and instructed to enter it later during an automated call to set up a meeting. It appears that if the owner enters the code on the automated call that those responsible for the scam are setting up a fraudulent account with an online auction service.

Also, another recent scam has been that the restaurant owners are again receiving phone calls, from someone claiming to be a health inspector to schedule an appointment or to relay new inspection procedures, but in the process are asking personal details about employees, i.e. their phone numbers.

An ongoing scam for many years has been that phony health inspectors have been entering restaurants and saying they are not in compliance by not posting certain posters and are offering to sell them these posters or to collect a fee or fine for not being in compliance.

For real, let’s make it clear … a health inspector will typically never schedule an inspection; they are not to ask personal employee details, nor are they allowed to collect monies. “None of it is real,” said Joshua M. Sharfstein M.D., Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) Secretary. “This is not how the state or your local health departments work with local food establishments.”

According to Federal officials, they report similar incidents have occurred in a number of states over the last two years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Baltimore District Office has relayed reports of the potential scams in Maryland to its Office of Criminal Investigations.

“All restaurant and food service operators in Maryland should know that this scam is still around,” said Frances Phillips, DHMH Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services. “If you have any doubt about an inspector who tries to schedule an appointment, call us or your local law enforcement immediately."

  • Under no circumstances will a genuine food inspector ask for a payment, either for posters, on-the-spot fines or any other services.
  •  This manner of operation (scheduling appointments by phone; using code numbers for identification) is not consistent with the current operating practices of food inspectors at the federal, state or local levels.
  •  When an inspector visits a food facility, the inspector should be asked to show their identification, as Federal, State and Local Jurisdiction inspectors all carry appropriate identification.

  • If there are any doubts about the identity of an inspector, the facility operator can contact its Local Health Department, the State Office of Food Protection and Consumer Health Services (410-767-8400) or the FDA Baltimore District Office (410-779-5455) to verify the inspector’s identity.
To reiterate last month’s article … Let’s get real: At the end of the day there are nice people and there are bad people everywhere. Please always remember that a real Health Inspector is one of the good ones … he will gladly show you his CARFAX, I mean PHOTO ID.

Juliet Bodinetz-Rich is the executive director of Bilingual Hospitality Training Solutions and has over 25 years industry and training experience. Her team of instructors’ specialty is food safety, alcohol training and ServSafe training in English or in Spanish and writing HACCP Plans in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. Metro Area., or 443-838-7561. For Latest Food Safety Tips: Become a Fan on Facebook or Twitter: @BHTS

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