May 19, 2024

Advanced Ailment Care

Elevating Health Solutions

From bed bugs to body art, health inspectors work to keep communities safe

4 min read

Elizabeth Dewitt didn’t plan on a career as a public health inspector.

She was working with an environmental consulting firm doinggroundwater and soil monitoring, and cleanups of old industrial sites. But the long commute started wearing on her and her young kids.

“So, I said ‘OK what can I do with my biology and environmental studies degree?’ And I happened to see a job posting at the Health Department. (I) had no idea of the things they did or what I would be getting into,” Dewitt said . “On a whim I applied, and 10 years later, here I am.”

Dewitt works as a health inspector for the Clark County Combined Health District. Her department covers everything from food production and sanitation, to bed bugs and body art.

Their department made over 3,500 inspections in 2023.

“I like that it’s something different everyday. We’re what we call generalists so we work in all of the programs — not specialists and work in one or two of the programs,” said Dewitt.

The story is similar for health inspector Megan Davis. She graduated college with a biology degree and was working in a lab in a food manufacturing facility.

“It kind of got old,” Davis said. “I stumbled upon the job online, once again not knowing what all the health department did. So I applied for it, got the job, (and) fell in love with it, the applied science and the education. We actually do a lot of education with our job.”

Megan Davis is a public health inspector fo the Clark County Combined Health District

Megan Davis is a public health inspector fo the Clark County Combined Health District

Davis and Dewitt’s jobs take them all over the county, from kitchens and campgrounds, to backyards and body art studios, making sure that the community stays safe and healthy.

Davis said that they don’t call ahead of time before an inspection, and they tend to surprise people.

“When we come in, we normally get a, ‘uhhh, really? Today?’ Or you get that look like, ‘ughhh, it’s the health department. And that’s even before they meet you,” DeWitt said laughing.

“Sometimes people are scared of us, but really we have a good working relationship with most of our operators, as long as they are willing to work with us,” Davis said. “We do have regulations to enforce, but yeah, sometimes we aren’t always well received.”

In the food court at the COhatch building in Springfield, Davis runs through the inspection process with one of the food vendors.

“OK, we always start a food inspection by washing our hands. We want to set the example for our food operators,” she said, speaking during a restaurant inspection while washing her hands, before pulling out a small thermometer. Using the device she checked the temperature of the meat of the grill before moving on to the cold storage.

“Once food is cooked at a proper temperature it has to be hot held at above 135 degrees, and we are constantly checking temperatures. Temperature abuse is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness if it’s improperly held,” Davis said.

Davis said poking the end of the thermometer into a holding pan of guacamole.

“And then for cold holding we’re looking at 41 degrees or less for all his TCS food items,” she said.”That’s what we are checking here.”

“When we come in, we normally get a, ‘uhhh, really? Today?’ Or you get that look like, ‘ughhh, it’s the health department. And that’s even before they meet you.”

A full standard inspection on a small facility like the restaurant she was attypically takes 45 minutes to an hour, but on a larger operation they would spend more time. Part of the inspection requires them to just stand back and watch the inner workings of the kitchen to make sure the cooks and staff are handling the food and sanitation correctly.

The modern public health system’s roots sprang out of the horrendous sanitary conditions in Paris and London during the rise of the industrial revolution and its devastating health consequences, like the black death.

In 1842, Sir Edwin Chadwick, a social reformer, kickstarted the idea of creating a public health system. According to A Brief History of Public Health, Chadwick argued that it was possible for the government to improve people’s lives through reform. Heconcludedwhat was really needed was not more physicians, but civil engineers to provide drainage of streets and to devise more efficient ways of delivering clean water and removing sewage and other noxious substances.

But, despite all the good that the public health system has done for humanity, modern health inspectors get more grief than love.

“I like to tell people, we are not scary. We are not mean people. And honestly, we are there to help the operators.We are there for them as much as we are for the community, to ensure that they are getting safe food to eat when they eat out,” she said. “But we are also just as much for that food facility to help them so they know that they are serving safe food, and they are doing everything in a safe, sanitary manner.”


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