09/04/11 — County works to make sure food is safe after power goes out

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County works to make sure food is safe after power goes out

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 4, 2011 1:50 AM

Even when he's not officially on duty, inspecting area food stands, Shane Smith, program coordinator for food and lodging with Wayne County Health Department, pays attention to how area businesses are conducting their operations.

So, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, when Smith ventured out last weekend for provisions at an area grocery store, he was watching.

"The store had lost all meats, vegetables, even their frozen foods," he said, crediting the proprietors with knowing not to take any chances after a power outage -- tossing out perishables and waiting for new stock to be brought in.

That proved to be the case across Wayne County, Smith said.

While some residents remained without electricity into the past week, for the most part, area businesses came through the storm in good shape.

"By the time we got back on Monday, the only major ones, we had several restaurants that had to throw away food supplies, a couple Subways were down for longer times and had to restock," he said. "As a county, we fared pretty well. By Tuesday everything was up and running 100 percent."

Smith has a staff of four, which usually travels the county conducting inspections at restaurants, businesses that sell or prepare food and school cafeterias.

Following the weekend storm, though, their schedule changed. "Assessment visits" were done to survey the situation, he said.

"Instead of doing our normally scheduled inspections and visits, what we did Monday was just canvass those areas," he said. "We had no one call in for any kind of questions. Most everybody responded pretty well to it.

"The basic thing that we did, if there were any facilities that had lost power long enough that their food supplies were lost. We contacted Progress Energy about areas still without power for more than 24 to 48 hours. We visited those facilities to see if they had power. If they didn't, we went through the process of having them throw away food."

Those whose power been restored, he added, were advised to make sure refrigeration units were working properly and that new shipments of food were coming in.

Smith said he had received no reports of spoiled food being kept and that across the board, businesses complied with requests to toss anything that was questionable without reaching an "embargo situation," in which businesses are ordered to dispose of bad food. Smith said no one in Wayne County had ever refused, to his knowledge.

Businesses that deal with food products or refrigerated items typically have provisions in place in case of such emergencies.

"Most have insurance that covers sustained loss -- groceries, wages lost," he said. "And some have back-up generators. We strongly suggest them having that, so you can at least supply energy to your food supplies."

School cafeterias are another area of concern, and the Wayne County Public Schools was no exception. After prolonged power outages, along with damages caused by fallen tree limbs at several schools, the district closed all 31 schools Monday, with four others remaining closed on Tuesday.

Like the aforementioned grocery stores and restaurants, the district was faced with waiting for replacement items to be delivered to restock cafeteria pantries.

Despite the inconvenience of being without electricity, having to wait for shelves to be refilled at grocery stores and restaurants to reopen, the bottom line will always be promoting food safety, Smith said.

And that's something that more and more consumers can also appreciate, he noted. The public has taken an increased interest in food safety, Smith said. The grades are posted in the newspaper monthly.

"I think in today's environment, people become aware," Smith said. "So when people see a low grade, it catches their attention. I think it's made people more aware and it's made managers more aware."