News13 Restaurant Report: DHEC reduces routine food inspections despite restaurants remaining open; here’s what is happening instead

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MYRTLE BEACH/FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) tells News13 that the number of routine inspections at retail food establishments is reduced due to coronavirus response efforts, despite the fact that many restaurants across the state remain open.

Although dine-in services were stopped by an order from Governor Henry McMaster in March, restaurants are still able to serve food on a take-out, curbside pickup or delivery basis.

Food establishments that remain open were sent a letter from DHEC on April 6, informing them of changes to the normal food inspection process. Due to the ongoing response efforts to COVID-19 and the Governor’s orders calling for social distancing, the agency says, a new “emergency procedure” has been developed for virtual “food safety checks”.

VIRTUAL “FOOD SAFETY CHECKS”

Although the letter from DHEC suggests that these checks will take place “instead of our regular inspections”, the letter to permitted businesses also goes on to say, “These food safety check reports will not replace a routine inspection”.

DHEC did say the checks will be documented, and available to the public. The agency also says these checks will not be graded, unlike the routine inspections, and will be “educationally focused on the food service risk factors”.

DHEC says staff can conduct these checks using a variety of video conferencing services including Microsoft Teams, Apple Facetime, Skype for Business and Android Video Call. The agency says the virtual checks will allow DHEC to discuss operational challenges and address any new processes businesses may be using under current service restrictions. After the virtual visit, businesses will receive a document that shows they have completed a DHEC “Food Safety Check”. The public will be able to view these documents on DHEC’s Food Grades website.

Despite the change, DHEC told News13 in an e-mail that it is working to make sure everyone remains safe:

We, however, are staying in constant communication with the regulated community. Our staff are working diligently to implement innovative evaluation tools to continue to safeguard public health during this time.  

On Wednesday night, News13 asked whether the “food safety checks” are mandatory, if these checks might be less comprehensive than routine inspections, if there are any concerns that food establishments would be more at risk for violations or issues with food safety with this new procedure, along with other questions. News13 asked the same questions of DHEC on Thursday. As of Friday night, we still have not received answers to these questions but DHEC did put out a news release about its “innovative procedures” on Friday afternoon.

To read the full letter sent by DHEC to retail food establishments, click here.

Businesses can request a “food safety check” by contacting the regional DHEC office in their area by clicking here. Additional information for retail food service establishments can be found here.

For more information on all of the Governor’s executive orders, click here.

NEWS13 RESTAURANT REPORT

Since News13’s last Restaurant Report, and before in-person inspections were reduced, we found several local restaurants that recently received the lowest possible grade, a “C”, from DHEC.

GRAND STRAND

China Town at 2608 Main Street in Conway received a 70% inspection score on February 27, in which a number of violations were noted. See below for some photos and notes DHEC provided from the initial inspection. China Town was given a follow-up score of 87% on March 6.

PEE DEE

Captain D’s Seafood Restaurant at 120 North Ron McNair Boulevard in the Lake City area of Florence County received a score of 77% following its March 3 inspection. The restaurant was docked points for things like:

  • An employee touching their shirt and handling food without washing hands
  • Boxes of food stored on floor
  • No date marks for ready-to-eat rice and macaroni & cheese
  • Time and temperature violations

On March 13, a follow-up inspection at this Captain D’s location resulted in a perfect score.

For the February edition of News13’s Restaurant Report, click here.

For the January edition of News13’s Restaurant Report, click here.

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