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Food Safety official struggles to keep up with work load

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press

WAXAHACHIE - Uncut grass and illegal dumping are keeping Waxahachie restaurants from being inspected with any regularity.

Tangled up in outdoor issues, Environmental Health Inspector Pete Morales is having to put restaurant inspections on the back burner and leave them there.

'This time of year, I'm bogged down with premises,' Morales told the Ellis County Press. 'I handle it all - junk cars, open wells, open sewage, illegal dumping, littering, uncut grass.' 

Morales indicated the process of getting property owners to clean up their unkempt premises is a long one.

'I go out and inspect it, write them a letter to clean it up, and if they don't, I do, and send them a bill,' Morales reported. 'It's time consuming.'

Meanwhile, as much as he would like to do so, Morales is unable to visit retail food establishments with regularity. That includes all types of restaurants, day care facilities, foster homes, even mobile units selling food.

But Morales feels the city's record is a clean one. He has only shut down three of the more than 100 establishments he is responsible to inspect.

'If there's a problem somewhere, and we get a call, we make sure someone gets there,' Morales said

According to Janice Coates, Registered Sanitarian and Program Manager for the area's Retail Foods Division of the State Health Department, only Waxahachie and Ennis have city-run inspection programs. Responsibility for the rest of Ellis County falls to the state.

'I don't think it's falling through the cracks,' Coates said. 'We are committed to trying to protect the public.'

But Coates laments the fact reality sometimes falls short of theory when it comes to frequency of inspection.

'In theory, we want to get by one or two times a year,' she said. 'But in reality, there are three full-time inspectors and one part-time inspector. And that is not just for Ellis County.'

Coates said her staff covers the entire 49-county area of Texas Department of Health Public Health Region 2 & 3. 'It's a large geographic area and includes approximately 2300 restaurants and convenience stores which we are responsible for inspecting,' she said.

The job is further complicated at present by the recent tornado that demolished the department's Arlington building. Inspectors are working out of their homes and other governmental offices, with a secretary housed in a small, temporary location.

If citizens have questions or problems, they should call (817) 272-7602 to leave a message. 'We'll call them back as soon as we can,' Coates says.

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