WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — In a cost-saving move, the Kansas Department of Agriculture announced plans Friday to take over food inspections in Sedgwick County itself rather than renew its present contract with the City of Wichita.
“We have found that it is more of a streamlined process if that is all state-inspected,” said Steve Moris, program manager for the Agriculture Department’s division of food safety. “It is not because of the work done by the Wichita folk. It is an opportunity to save money.”
The present contract with the city expires March 31, and state inspectors will take over the work on April 1.
“That contract was the last one around,” Moris said in a phone interview. “We had eight of them at one time over the years.”
He said having the department conduct its own food inspections is projected to save the state $125,000 the first year, and $190,000 the second year and the years beyond that. The lower savings the first year is due to the purchase of laptops, printers, vehicles and other costs.
The Agriculture Department plans to hire six state inspectors to handle the work, with the openings to be posted starting next week. The new hires will undergo a 10-week training program. State inspectors now in the area will temporarily absorb the added workload while the new hires finish their training, Moris said.
Wichita City Manager Robert Layton said the city was recently notified of the decision to discontinue the contract. He noted in his written statement that the notification did not cite any deficiency in the city’s inspection program or offer an opportunity to pursue program options.
The city had contracted with the state since 1978 to provide food service inspection, supplying a minimum of one inspector for every 400 food service establishments, Layton noted.
Sedgwick County has 2,050 food establishments, including restaurants, grocery stores and convenience stores, Moris said. The number of inspections is based on risk and the facilities’ sizes, with inspections ranging from one every 12 months to one every 18 months.
The Agriculture Department said it doesn’t expect any lapse in the inspections of facilities.
“Our primary focus is on food safety in this situation,” Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Chad Bontrager said in a news release. “We are completely confident that this change will not result in any difference in food safety while allowing us to better utilize the resources available.”
Under the previous contract, Wichita received 80 percent of inspection fees to pay for inspection services, according to the city. That funding of about $500,000 was solely for food service inspections.
“As this service transitions to the State of Kansas, the City of Wichita will do everything in its power to ensure that there is no compromise of the food service inspections that have earned the respect and confidence of the hundreds of thousands of Wichitans and guests who regularly visit the many quality food service establishments in our community,” Layton said.