The South Carolina Department of Agriculture is preparing to take on some food safety regulatory duties — including retail kitchen inspections — that are currently handled by the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Starting July 1, 2024, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture will handle all retail food safety inspection, including restaurant kitchens, school cafeterias, caterers, grocery stores, some convenience stores and more. The Agriculture Department also is taking over DHEC’s Manufactured Food Programs, including soft drinks, cheese and dairy, bottled water and ice. Agriculture also will oversee the milk inspection program and laboratory, according to a news release.
The South Carolina General Assembly diverted the responsibilities to the Agriculture Department as part of S.399, a bill that restructures DHEC and divides its oversight among new and existing agencies, the release stated.
SCDA has regulated wholesale food manufacturing for nearly 50 years, according to the department’s news release. The agency also regulates animal feed safety, specialty food producers, and produce farming, and has well-equipped specialized labs that conduct a variety of regulatory testing.
“The South Carolina Department of Agriculture has a great reputation for protecting the public and working with South Carolina businesses,” Commissioner of Agriculture Hugh Weathers said in the release. “These new duties will strengthen our ability to assure food safety while also streamlining services for businesses, some of which are currently regulated by both SCDA and DHEC. This is good news for farmers, too. We’ll have even more involvement in every step of the food system, from when it’s grown to where it’s eaten. We look forward to serving our state in new ways as we affirm our longstanding commitment to food safety and a strong agriculture industry.”
SCDA and DHEC are working together with the South Carolina Department of Administration to assure a smooth transition for customers, employees and the public, the release said. SCDA will roughly double in size, with about 115 positions transferring over from DHEC. DHEC food safety staff will join SCDA’s existing Consumer Protection Division, which includes all the agency’s regulatory departments.
“The food safety regulations aren’t changing, but the public will see some changes — and not just a new logo on the restaurant door,” Assistant Commissioner for Consumer Protection Derek Underwood said in the release. “South Carolina consumers and the businesses we inspect can expect a responsive team dedicated to helping improve food safety. We look forward to continuing to earn public trust with these new responsibilities.”
Over the next eight months, SCDA will post regular updates on the transfer online.s