By Greg Gelpi
Armed with a badge, a thermometer and a host of other equipment, Samuel McCullough is on the front lines of the war to keep Clayton County healthy.
McCullough, an environmentalist with the Clayton County Board of Health, inspects restaurants, septic tanks, public pools and hotels in efforts to protect the public's health.
The 1995 Jonesboro High School graduate admitted that his friends and family kid him about their cooking and kitchens, but said that he performs a vital role with the health department.
A back door to a restaurant's kitchen was open and insects were contaminating the food, McCullough, 28, recalled finding during one of his investigations of a local eatery.
"I've found insects in food and rodents in food," McCullough said, reflecting on his more than four years with the health department. "You have to assume the establishment wasn't going to correct the problem, but continue to put its product out."
Almost all restaurants have some sort of violation, he said, although not all are as severe as the insects.
"You never know what you're going to find," McCullough said. "If I'm going out to eat, I make sure I check the inspection report."
McCullough said one of the department's six inspectors conduct surprise visits every six months to each of the county's restaurants, along with inspections when the department receives complaints.
He said that it's unfortunate, but he finds many common problems throughout the county from his inspections, particularly problems with improper cooking and storage temperatures. He also finds violations involving incorrect hand washing and even no hand washing at all.
"There have been times when I have been in restaurants for a long time and haven't seen people washing their hands," McCullough said.
In addition to restaurants, McCullough said that he inspects hotels and motels to ensure that sheets are changed daily and there are no signs of rodent infestation along with other public health concerns. He also checks septic tanks, a particular concern with the heavy rains as of late, and public pools for the proper levels of chemicals and proper drain covers.
There are many areas of public health that the public isn't aware of, department spokeswoman Sheryl Taylor said.
"People think public health is shots and condoms," Taylor said.
Actually, the department does much behind the scenes to prevent health problems, work that gets little attention, she said.
"People are doing that everyday to protect public health," Taylor said.
As part of Public Health Week, the department is urging county residents to eat healthier, be smoke free, be active and be positive, she said.
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