Meals inspectors in Albuquerque crack down on well being laws and security violations
ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – You might think that by now everyone should know the rules when it comes to COVID-safe practices in businesses and public places. However, reports from the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department show that inspectors are working hard to identify and address persistent health violations in food companies.
During normal times, the city’s health inspectors check restaurants and grocery stores for a variety of risks, including temperature controls, pests, and making sure employees wash their hands. In the era of COVID-19, inspectors have an extra tier of work to ensure people are following state health regulations and what are known as COVID safe practices.
Weekly food permit inspection reports reveal that Albuquerque City inspectors are encountering numerous problems with food companies. Issues identified in recent reports include employees not wearing masks, issues related to social distancing, and too many people in companies violating occupancy restrictions.
Albuquerque City Food Permit Inspection Report – Aug 19-28
Deputy Director of the Albuquerque Department of Environment and Health, Dr. Mark DiMenna says the city is either warning or threatening companies to withdraw food permits for companies with recurring compliance issues. Fines are not common.
“If we find a food approval facility that does not meet the requirements, we will not impose fines, we will not quote them; we’re just going to suspend their approval, ”DiMenna said. “This is absolutely a public health problem, normally like I said we are looking for food problems, right now we are also looking for COVID safe problems.”
In July alone, according to DiMenna estimates, five to ten companies threatened to suspend their food permits. The city hasn’t withdrawn or suspended a single food permit, however, and says all companies have complied once they realize what they could lose.
The past two reports identified violations in grocery stores and restaurants across Albuquerque. Near the old town, DH Les Combes winery and bistro were warned on August 19 after inspectors discovered that the shops “have live music” according to a city report. The report said the restaurant “canceled future events.”
Panaderia Pastelandia, a bakery in the International District, received a warning on August 21 after inspectors “observed two employees in the kitchen who were not wearing face-covering at the time of the inspection.” The report states that the violation was “corrected on the spot” after the inspectors “discussed correct procedures”.
In Nob Hill, Scalo received a warning on August 28 after “several employees” were observed to “not wear face coverings in the kitchen of the restaurant. According to the report, the violation was “corrected on the spot” after the inspectors “discussed correct procedures”.
The city’s reports also show that inspectors visit dozens of companies each week. In the last report from August 19-28, around ten companies were warned about public health regulations and COVID safe practices.
“Everyone should know the rules and obey them just for our and their safety,” said Albuquerque’s Martin Madrid. “A lot of people don’t like to do it, but we have to do what we have to do.”
DiMenna says that as time goes on, food companies become more and more regulatory as companies figure out exactly what the state’s rules are. He also credits compliance with customers who require companies to adhere to the Public Health Regulations and the state’s rules sheet for COVID Safe Practices.
“Businesses are finding that their customers are not only willing to play with them more than they thought they are, but they are also getting used to different operating conditions,” DiMenna said. “But customers actually demand it, and since companies find that their customers don’t come if they don’t work safely, they have another motivation besides the city.”
The city says it continues to encourage and investigate COVID safety complaints about companies accused of breaking the rules. Complaints should be directed to the Albuquerque City 311 hotline or the New Mexico State Department of the Environment via email [email protected].