Bill Hale has worked with the Clay County Health Department since October 1989.
In those 19 years, Hale -- who serves as the Clay County Environmental Health Specialist -- said he's seen marked improvement in restaurant facilities in the county.
Hale's position encompasses more than just restaurant inspections. He said those in the department also inspect all public health complaints, which could include housing or open dumping, among other things.
Clay County does not have an ordinance requiring health officials to conduct restaurant inspections regularly.
Still, part of health department officials' duties include restaurant inspections.
"We don't have a county ordinance and that's what sets the frequency," Hale told The Brazil Times. "What we have under Indiana Code is the legal power to inspect.
"We've always tried to do it once a year."
When he arrived in the county, Hale said there were approximately 160 restaurants. However, now he said now there are approximately 80 restaurants county-wide that are inspected. That number does not include convenience stores or school buildings, which Hale inspects personally. He said the department also inspects the sheriff's department.
In 2004, the department hired an individual who conducted restaurant inspections for nearly two years. When that person left the organization, another was hired and worked at the department until earlier this year.
The department recently hired a new person who is undergoing training to conduct inspections.
"She is in the process of going through the training at the present time," Hale said.
He added she should be completed with the necessary training in November and he has 10 establishments that will be inspected prior to that.
Hale, who previously worked in the health field in Ohio and Illinois, said he wished the county had an ordinance for more regularity regarding inspections of establishments such as restaurants.
"As a health department representative, I would have to say definitely," he said, pointing out the county has ordinances for installing septic systems and dilapidated buildings.
Hale said there have been attempts to pass ordinances in the past for restaurant inspections.
"If there was an ordinance, inspections would be regulated more," he said.
Hale said a restaurant inspection is broken down into several categories. He said personal hygiene of employees is looked at, as is food handling, food protection, cleanliness and food temperature, among other items.
Hale said restaurants receive a score report following inspection, which includes a number of "critical" and "non-critical" items the facility must handle.
He said "critical" items are things that must be taken care of immediately, while "non-critical" items are things that have to be taken care of but not at the severity of "critical" items.
"(Restaurants) have to correct critical items the day of (the inspection) or as quickly as possible," Hale said.
In addition to restaurant inspections, health department officials also check septic systems and water wells, inspect repairs, conduct sampling and inspect public pools.
Note: For unknown reasons, The Brazil Times discontinued publishing restaurant inspection reports a number of years ago. However, future inspections will be published in The Times from now on.