09/03/07 — Health inspection rules change

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Health inspection rules change

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 3, 2007 1:46 PM

Health inspectors will now abide by a new state law that dictates how often food establishments are inspected during the year.

For some food service businesses, that might mean fewer site visits, while others will continue to be inspected four times annually.

The state's Environmental Health Services section said the move is being made to better focus on violations that directly contribute to foodborne illnesses.

Translated, that means that fast food-type restaurants, where food is prepared and served immediately, can be inspected twice a year rather than every quarter.

Worth Heath, food and lodging program specialist with Wayne County Health Department, said the change was expected.

"It's intended to let us spend more time in the places that are risky -- places where they're cooking and cooling and reheating foods," he said. "When you take foods through two or three times, that's when it's dangerous."

Larger restaurants, especially those with buffets, will remain under the four-times-a-year guideline, Heath added.

"When you're cooling food down -- if you cook it and serve it, that's really safe. But if you cool it down, that's when bacteria and toxins can be a problem," he explained.

The state law went into effect Aug. 1, but will not be reflected until the next quarter, October-December.

It's a really good rule change, Heath said.

"This is designed to reduce foodborne illness," he said, noting the five basic risk factors considered in restaurant inspection -- cooking temperatures, cooling, poor personal hygiene, contaminated equipment and holding temperatures, such as on a serving line.

While the state is still tweaking the criteria, after September the biggest change will be seen in grade cards posted in restaurants.

"It could be farther in between inspections," he said. "Some grade cards may be looking a little older ... now could see ones seven, eight, nine months old."

Ideally, lag time between visits would not go beyond seven months at the most, Heath said.

The basic risk categorization of food establishments, from least to most, is spelled out as follows:

* Risk Type 1, which will be inspected once a year, include businesses that prepare only non-potentially hazardous, or PH, foods, such as some drink stands.

* Risk Type 2, which cook and cool no more than two PH foods or raw ingredients received in a ready-to-cook form. Examples of these include some grocery delis, pushcarts, cook and serve pizza or food service and sandwich shops. These will be inspected twice a year.

* Risk Type 3 businesses cook and cool no more than three PH foods or raw PH food preparation. These, which include meat markets, some grocery store deli, middle and high school lunch rooms and some sub shops, will be inspected three times a year.

* Risk Type 4 establishments, which use an unlimited number of cooking and cooling processes, will be inspected four times annually. Examples of these are full service restaurants, big delis, caterers, nursing homes, school lunch rooms serving preschool ages, some sushi establishments and reduced oxygen packaging.