MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. -- Mecklenburg County health inspectors are starting to test the food at restaurants near the convention center where the Democratic National Convention will take place this summer.
Inspectors have gone beyond the standard food inspections, taking samples of commonly-served foods for testing, said Lynn Lathan, environmental supervisor for the Food and Facilities Sanitation
Program through the Mecklenburg County Health Department. Normally, they don’t take food samples.
Samples were sent earlier this month to several labs across the country to test for contamination, including substances that might be used by terrorists, Lathan said.
“This is surveillance only,” Lathan said. The sampling, which Lathan said was financed by the FDA, took place over three days earlier this month, and the restaurants were selected based on their proximity to the convention site uptown.
Lathan said for safety reasons, she could not give a list of restaurants that were sampled. “We don’t want them getting negative attention, and we don’t want them advertising that they’re doing parties for the DNC. If someone were to come out and say, ‘I’m feeding the president tomorrow at noon,’ that’s not smart and it makes you a target,” she said.
Charlotte, host of the Democratic convention and Tampa, Fla., where Republicans will gather for their convention this summer, are working in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration in preparation for the events.
“Both communities – Charlotte and Tampa – are basically doing the same thing, said Ryan Pedigo, director of public health preparedness for Hillsborough County in Tampa. “Food safety is food safety no matter who is doing it,”
He said when the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, a state agency, inspects vendors and restaurants, they’re stressing that they be extra careful with food preparations during and leading up to the RNC.
Pedigo could not comment on whether there were additional inspections or food samplings at this point.
In Charlotte, “there is going to be continued sampling,” Lathan said. “We want to make sure it’s seamless, that it’s basically second nature” in time for the convention, she said.
Restaurants have the right to turn inspectors down, but so far, no one has, Lathan said.
“We’re collecting large quantities, and we’ve picked things from representative food groups. We may be asking for four pounds of lettuce and there’s no means for us to reimburse them. If they’re running on a shoestring, I could see where someone would have a hard time with it,” Lathan said.
Officials in Charlotte and Tampa have reached out to other host cities to learn about not just their food preparation, but their medical responses during past conventions.
“Our biggest concern here is the heat,” Pedigo said. “During that week in August, the average temperature runs around 90-93 degrees. …It can be rather brutal.”