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University backs out of deal to carry out its own health inspections

| Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Notre Dame has decided not to agree to a deal whereby the University would handle its own food safety inspections, according to an article published Saturday by the South Bend Tribune. If Notre Dame had agreed to do its own inspections, the move would have reduced pressure on the St. Joseph County Health Department. One of the sticking points in the agreement was Notre Dame’s desire to keep the health reports confidential, the article said.

The county signed a deal with the University in August which would have allowed Notre Dame to keep the reports confidential, however in September the Tribune published an article that said under Indiana law such reports cannot be kept private, according to the article.

“[T]he health department canceled that agreement and tried to renegotiate one that would have made reports publicly available,” the article said.

In the coming weeks, Notre Dame decided not to “proceed” with the deal, the article said.

In Saturday’s article, University spokesman Dennis Brown said issues raised in the September article caused Notre Dame to decide that the county should continue doing the inspections.

“In our commitment to be a good community partner, Notre Dame accepted a request from the St. Joseph County Health Department to conduct inspections of our dining establishments …  However, external suggestions calling our integrity into question by likening this process to the ‘fox guarding the henhouse’ have caused us to reconsider,” Brown said in the article. “We will continue to cooperate with the health department on inspections but have told the county that we prefer to have them conduct inspections.”

In the statement, Brown quoted Steve Key, executive director of the Hoosier State Press Association. Key was the one who initially likened the University’s attempt to keep the reports secret as a “fox guarding the henhouse.”

Indiana public access counselor Luke Britt, whose job it is to handle open records complaints, was quoted in the initial article as saying Notre Dame cannot keep its health records confidential.

According to the article, Notre Dame’s choice was “a disappointment for the health department.” The department has faced difficulties in the past with carrying out the requisite number of inspections and the University would have lightened the load if it had carried out its own. Under the proposed arrangement, the county would have performed inspections on “new and remodeled food establishments” at the University, but Notre Dame would have carried out all routine checks.

Notre Dame’s choice was a “business decision,” David Keckley, attorney for the county Board of Health, said in the article.

“Obviously, the health department is disappointed Notre Dame chose not to proceed with trying to work out the details,” Keckley said in the article.

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