Will budget cuts affect restaurant inspections in Pennsylvania?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – ‘Tis the season for Pennsylvania agencies to make their cases for more funding.

Pennsylvania is grappling with a huge budget shortfall, meaning potential cuts. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding says cuts to his department could affect food safety at your favorite restaurants.

Individual cities, boroughs, and townships get the first crack at rights to inspect local restaurants. Most don’t want the expense, so they pass it on to the Department of Agriculture, which now handles inspections for 94 percent of Pennsylvania.

Those inspections go on a database, and ABC27 publishes them in a weekly segment called “Restaurant Report.”

“Talk about changed behavior, right?” Redding said. “No one in the business wants a bad record, a bad report card online.”

Gov. Tom Wolf proposed a $2.23 million increase for the Department of Agriculture. The House of Representatives passed a budget that cuts $2.05 million. Redding says that would cost 21 jobs or one-third of the total food inspection staff, meaning potentially 8,000 fewer inspections.

“It’ll have a ripple effect on the community,” Redding said. “We’re very concerned about it because if there’s anything folks want to be assured of it’s food safety.”

But supporters of the House budget cuts point to the $3 billion hole lawmakers are trying to navigate, saying all agencies will need to make tough decisions and sacrifices across the board.

Even if the Department of Agriculture is required to cut personnel, the inspections will continue. The concern is that inspectors will be spread too thinly to stay on top of complaints and other food safety issues.

In the south-central Pennsylvania region, each inspector is in charge of an average of 684 facilities. The Department of Agriculture points to U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, recommending an inspector oversee between 300 and 400 facilities.

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