A week ago, code enforcement officials reported on progress plowing through that backlog of restaurant inspections. The backlog was taken care of with the help of an outside company, they told a City Council committee. From now on, with a few new hires, the department would be able to handle the required twice-per-year inspection of Dallas' 6,100 food-preparing establishments.
After that post, a Friend of Unfair Park pointed us to the city's searchable database of food-inspection scores. Just search for a restaurant, he told us. See when the last inspection was.
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You can play along at home by punching in the dining establishment(s) of your choice, but for simplicity's sake, we picked McDonald's. Hundreds of those around, all of which prepare food and require the biannual looksie by the city. And scrolling through the search results, what's the first listing we see? McDonald's on Cedar Springs was last inspected in April 2010. Others have been completed more recently, some in 2011, some in the past few months -- some, but by no means all. A lot haven't been visited by the city since early 2010. In at least a couple of cases, it's 2009. So is the city actually caught up on its backlog?
On Friday, I spoke with James Childress, assistant director of code compliance. "It's a little bit of everything," he told me, by way of explaining the stale food scores. In some cases, he said, the most recent report might not have been promptly uploaded into the database, so some of the establishments that appear not to have been inspected for two years may have been visited yesterday.
Or not. "Right now, obviously, I can't unequivocally say that" the date on the website accurately reflects the date of the most recent inspection, Childress said. The department is preparing to migrate to a new, more efficient computer system that will better track overdue inspections, but the main problem has been budget and staffing cuts that reduced the number of food inspectors by more than a third over the past few years.
The point the department was trying to make to the council was that it was the staffing shortage that had caused the inspection backlog but that the problem had been remedied by recent hires. Many of those hires are still in training, but they will all be fully trained -- and the will be on track to resume twice-per-year inspections -- by the start of the city's new fiscal year on October 1.