As of March 8th, 357 food establishments in Flint, Michigan have received compliance checks and have been verified to be compliant, that is, following the requirements for use of City of Flint water, as directed by the Genesee County Health Department and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
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“The companies listed as compliant have demonstrated they are taking precautions to reduce the risk of foodborne illness from water that may be contaminated with lead, as outlined in the Michigan Food Law and Michigan Modified Food Code,” says Kevin Besey, MPA, RS, director of the MDARD Food and Dairy Division.
Lead is a neurotoxin when ingested or inhaled, with potentially serious, harmful health effects.
Flint food businesses not included on the list are not necessarily out of compliance with Michigan food regulations, Besey notes. “Some businesses have not yet received a compliance assessment from food inspectors,” he explains. “Compliance checks are still taking place, and this list is updated as new inspections are done.”
With regards to the criteria for food establishments to be in compliance relative to the Flint water emergency, firms are either found compliant during an MDARD assessment or have passed a water test, Besey says. “A list of Flint food establishments who are in compliance with the current requirements is generated by MDARD and posted on the Flint Water Response website,” he relates.
As of Feb. 22, 2016, reports show that there are three businesses that have been found not in compliance after reassessment, Besey mentions. “Additional data reports that there are 33 more businesses that reported initial noncompliance, however these firms are pending confirmation of a re-inspection to indicate compliance has been achieved after guidance was provided by MDARD,” he says.
According to Besey, letters were sent to all Flint food establishments on Oct. 15, 2015 with recommendation actions, followed by letters to those establishments on Jan. 14, 2016 with legal requirement notices that outlines specific obligations and additional precautions that must be in place for food establishments using City of Flint water. These additional precautions include one or more of the following: having a “not detected” lead water test; flushing the water system for at least five minutes at the start of each day; installing filters on all water sources used in the food business; and/or using bottled water for food preparation and cooking.
“On January 20, 2016 MDARD food inspectors began visiting each licensed establishment to assess compliance with the requirements and collect water samples for testing,” Besey points out. “To date, the majority of food establishments have been found to be in compliance with the regulations and MDARD staff members are working with those who were not in compliance at the initial assessment to come into compliance.”
Moreover, staff continues daily response efforts for licensed food establishments using City of Flint water, Besey continues. “Daily response includes establishment visits, making assessments, sampling, monitoring, re-inspections, and follow-up reporting of sample results.”
Home Gardening Concerns
Not surprisingly, people who farm and garden in Flint are questioning the safety of growing edible plants in soil that has been irrigated with lead contaminated water, according to Phil Tocco, MS, a food safety educator with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension.
“Lead occurs naturally in soils,” says Stephen Boyd, PhD, a MSU environmental chemist. “One estimate of the ‘normal’ background level of total lead in agricultural soils is 10 parts per million (ppm), according to research conducted at the University of Minnesota. Research in Delaware shows a background lead level of 100 ppm.”
Lead dissolved in water used for irrigation is adsorbed by soil particles, and the newly added lead from irrigation water would add to the lead already found in the soils, Dr. Boyd notes.