The Lowcountry is for foodies.
Oh, it is for history buffs, beach lovers, architecture aficionados and arts enthusiasts, too. But there is a reason the Charleston area has appeared up on top-dining lists by Travel+Leisure, Bon Appetit, Esquire and Forbes.
The Charleston Food+Wine Festival draws tasters from all over to experience local cuisine.
And statewide efforts are being made to market South Carolina as a barbecue mecca.
So its shortage of health inspectors for restaurants is more than a health hazard. It is also an economic hazard.
The Post and Courier’s Lauren Sausser reported last week that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, which is responsible for restaurant inspections, grades restaurants an average of 1.7 times a year. The state law requires only one.
But federal standards call for inspecting restaurants up to four times a year. And a local restaurateur said that when he worked in New York City, inspectors came once a month.
Fortunately, most of the state’s restaurants, delicatessens and bakeries are awarded “A”s when they are inspected. And locals and tourists alike don’t seem to be skittish about dining out.
Indeed, the retail food market is robust enough to attract new restaurants right and left.
It would be a pity if that perception changed, and problems with food safety could do just that.
DHEC employs 77 inspectors statewide to oversee 2,750 retail food establishments.
Of those, 1,933 are in Charleston County. That includes everything from Dave’s Carry-Out, a tiny place on Morris Street in Charleston, which made Travel+Leisure’s list of best seafood restaurants, to Husk, which was named Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant in the country for 2011.
DHEC Director Catherine Templeton has focused on meeting the state’s inspection needs. And she has hired two more food inspectors for Charleston since she took her job in 2012.
Her goal is for each restaurant to be inspected twice a year, but budget cuts by the General Assembly have made that difficult.
The Legislature and the governor have made it clear that their mission is to bring in more businesses and the jobs they provide.
That’s a good goal. But it’s also important to take care of the businesses and industries that are here. Making certain that the state’s restaurants are inspected enough to justify the confidence and ensure the health of diners is essential.
Cutting these corners would be a mistake for the state’s economy, the health of its citizens, the well-being of small businesses — and the gustatory pleasure so many in the state so enjoy.
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