The state and city agencies in charge of overseeing food services at homeless shelters in New York City were lax in inspecting them and did not check if food service workers were tested for tuberculosis (TB), according to an audit released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
"When you get a hot meal at a homeless shelter, it should not come with a health warning," DiNapoli said. "Food operations of many shelters have gone uninspected and shelters couldn't show that workers serving food were tested for TB. Three separate agencies are supposed to make sure that happens, but my auditors found that has not been the case."
The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) administers New York state's homeless housing and services programs. The office certifies and oversees larger scale shelter facilities and is responsible for inspecting them and ensuring they meet certain standards. OTDA's oversight includes ensuring that residents in certified shelters receive adequate food services.
New York City's Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is responsible for inspecting homeless shelters in the city to ensure they meet certain standards. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) is responsible for protecting and promoting the health of all city residents, and inspects and issues permits to food establishments, including shelters that serve food to residents.
According to OTDA, there are 158 certified shelters in New York City (94 adult shelters and 64 family shelters). Of these, 100 either cooked food on site or had food catered. Residents cooked their own food at the remaining 58 shelters. During 2017, over 18 million meals were served in homeless shelters in New York City.
DiNapoli's auditors sampled 15 shelters and found on average, only 59 percent (79 out of a required 135) of food inspections from 2015 through 2017 were completed.
Auditors found that OTDA did not produce inspection reports to support three of their 2016 inspections, stating that, prior to 2017, they did not prepare reports if no violations were detected during these inspections, leaving no proof that those inspections were performed.
DHS officials said that having only two inspectors on staff limited their inspections. They now employ 28 inspectors who are tasked with inspecting each facility twice per calendar year.
DOHMH did have a complete listing of homeless shelters that served for catered food. Auditors found that one shelter, Traveler's Safe Haven, (274 West 40th St, Manhattan) did not have the required food service establishment permit from DOHMH. DOHMH officials stated that they will work with DHS to ensure that shelters that prepare or cater food apply for food establishment permits.
DiNapoli's auditors examined TB testing records from 14 of the 15 shelters visited. One of the shelters was excluded from review because it did not prepare food but instead offered packaged options. For the remaining shelters, auditors found no evidence that 98 of 121 (81 percent) food service workers were fully tested for calendar year 2017. In fact, shelter providers were not able to provide any TB testing documentation for 53 of 121 employees (44 percent). The Shelter Care Center for Men (8 East 3rd Street) could not provide TB test documentation for any of its 16 food service workers.
Shelter operators are also required to provide meals that are balanced, nutritious and adequate to meet the dietary needs of residents. Auditors found a lack of written policies and procedures relating to food nutrition for both OTDA and DHS. Further, there was not sufficient documentation to determine whether meals met state regulations and New York City Food Standards.
DiNapoli recommended the agencies:
- Enhance monitoring and oversight of food services by performing inspections in accordance with applicable regulations and policies;
- Finalize and implement formalized shelter food inspection policies and procedures;
- Ensure that food service workers remain current with TB testing requirements;
- Require shelter providers and caterers to submit menus and other supporting documentation that clearly denote nutritional information for all individual food items served, including nutritional fact labels, recipes, and food brand names, in order to properly verify the nutritional content of meals; and
- Ensure that each shelter that serves food has the required food establishment permit.
OTDA officials generally disagreed with the audit's conclusions. However, they agreed with most of the recommendations and indicated that they will take steps to address them. In their response, DSS officials generally accepted most of the conclusions and indicated that they will take steps to address them. In their response, DOHMH officials agreed with the recommendations and indicated that they would act on them. The agencies' full comments are included in the audit.
Read the report, or go to: https://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093019/sga-2019-17s53.pdf
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