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High Profile Food Safety Inspector Resigns, Questions Remain
09/26/2013   Reported By: Jennifer Mitchell

A state certified food inspector, whose well publicized series of kitchen crack-downs in Portland generated some controversy, has resigned. Michele Sturgeon had been on the job for just over two years. It's unclear why Sturgeon and the city have parted ways, but officials say they've still got Portland's more than 700 commercial kitchens covered.

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In her first year, Michele Sturgeon had flunked more than 80% of the premises she'd inspected. By contrast, just 5% of Portland restaurants had failed their inspections in the three years prior to her arrival. Last year, almost half of the restaurants she inspected failed to pass, with nine kitchens forced to shut down, including a popular wharf eatery, The Porthole Restaurant, and adjacent Comedy Connection...and people were starting to notice.

"It all became about her, and that was unfair," said Dick Grotton, president of the Maine Restaurant Association. He said he was a little surprised to hear of Sturgeon's resignation, after such a relatively short amount of time on the job.

"She was a game changer," Grotton said. "She was asking folks to abide by rules that had long been in place but had not been enforced by the code enforcement people who had been handling the responsibility for inspections."

When Sturgeon took over Portland's health inspection duties in 2011, she was the only dedicated, state-certified kitchen inspector on the payroll, and she was playing catch-up. But Portland City Spokewoman Nicole Clegg said now, that situation has changed.

"Well for more than a year, the city has been working on building its health inspection program," said Clegg. "So we currently have two other certified health inspectors that are covering the city."

And, she said, applications are already being reviewed to fill Sturgeon's position.

Clegg refused to comment on why Sturgeon resigned, she said it was a private, personnel matter...but according to a Bangor Daily News blog called the Munjoy Hill News, Sturgeon had told the blog that the split was "amicable" and described the position as "not a good fit."

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