Dallas Debates Restaurant Inspection Measure

Final vote expected in October

The city of Dallas is one step closer to a new measure designed to clean up restaurant kitchens.

An NBC 5 investigation in February found hundreds of restaurants had gone more than two years without a health inspection.

At a meeting Monday, the City Council's Quality of Life Committee was briefed on what the city has done since NBC 5 uncovered the breakdown in restaurant inspections.

"They've been working for a long time -- you have to give them a little latitude to kind of close that gap," Councilman Dwaine Caraway said. "I think they put the right program in place and hired the people."

At the meeting, staff reported that the city has already hired six new restaurant inspectors. The committee approved the hiring of five more in the next fiscal year.

NBC 5's investigation found that the city's inspection budget -- and the number of inspectors -- had been slashed in half, which was one reason why so many restaurant kitchens were not being checked.

Council members on Monday also authorized staff to start writing a measure that would require every restaurant worker in Dallas to take a food-safety course.

"What we're saying is to take it one step further. Don't wait for the violation; do what other cities in Texas are doing, where you require everybody to take the training beforehand, so now it's not just on one person to be watching everybody," Assistant City Manager Joey Zapata said. "It's so that everybody has gone through the training and, hopefully, we will see fewer violations whenever we go in for our twice-a-year inspections."

But first, the city wants to get the support of Dallas restaurant owners.

Mark Maguire, of Maguire's Restaurant and Catering, said he worries about the cost and time of mandatory training.

"It is a hassle, yeah sure," he said. "If you're certified by the city of Plano, is the city of Dallas going to recognize that or are you going to now have to go get a another certification and pay another certification fee?"

The city said it would address the concerns. It said it wants to make the food-safety training program affordable and allow restaurant workers to take their certification with them from job to job.

Other cities already require training courses for restaurant workers. Dallas has only required them for restaurants that scored badly on inspections.

The plan should come up for a vote in October. If it passes, every restaurant worker in the city would be required to take the safety class sometime next year.

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