PORTLAND – The city is training another health inspector in an effort to beef up its restaurant inspections program.

The city’s current health inspector, Michele Sturgeon, went on medical leave earlier this month.

City Hall Spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Michael Russell, who works as the environmental health and safety manager for the city’s Public Health Division, is in the process of being certified as a second health inspector.

Clegg said Russell began training more than a month ago, after city staff decided to add a part-time inspector position to help keep pace with restaurant inspections.

“The two are unrelated,” Clegg said of Russell’s training and Sturgeon’s absence.

Russell has been inspecting restaurants under the supervision of state inspectors for the past few weeks, and will be covering for Sturgeon while she is on leave.

Clegg did not know when Sturgeon would return.

The city has shut down nine restaurants since hiring Sturgeon as its first health inspector last year and increasing its enforcement of food safety.

State law requires each restaurant to be inspected once every two years. Portland — along with a handful of other communities — has been delegated inspection authority by the state.

Portland has about 800 eateries, meaning 400 need to be inspected annually to meet the requirements of the law.

Clegg said Russell’s training is part of the city’s effort to build the program and to meet the state’s requirements. Russell is expected to be fully certified sometime in January.

Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

rbillings@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @randybillings