09/04/12 — Food ratings system changes

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Food ratings system changes

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 4, 2012 1:46 PM

The rules governing food handling and sanitation at eating establishments are about to change.

The FDA "food code" must be approved every three years, said Shane Smith, food and lodging supervisor with the environmental health branch of Wayne County Health Department.

The latest version of the food code went into effect Sept. 1, requiring employees to avoid handling ready-to-eat food with bare hands and establishing employee health policies to ensure that an ill employee is not involved in the preparation or serving of food.

The new food code represents the most comprehensive change in the state's food protection standards in more than 30 years and puts into place rules and provisions to avoid food-borne illnesses like noroviruses and salmonella.

"It's been in transition for years," Smith said. "We have been pushing for it as long as I can remember."

The new 22-page food code manual, which can be found on the environmental health website, www.waynegov.com/page/136, will be enforced among the estimated 283 food service facilities in the county, including school lunchrooms, institutions, mobile food units and push carts.

The biggest change, he said, is requiring refrigeration temperatures to be dropped from 45 degrees to 41 degrees for "cold hold" in food safety. Because a number of places might have older equipment, though, they will be given a six-year window before this ruling takes effect, Jan. 1, 2019.

The other significant move is ensuring that a responsible person is always on site.

"Every facility is going to have a PIC, a person in charge," Smith said. "Someone has to be there at all times with manager training, with knowledge of the working of the facility."

The PIC must have a working knowledge of the food code and ANSI, or American National Standard Institute safety course. That goes into effect in 2014.

"It's for us (inspectors) but it's also for them and it's something we have been pushing for somebody to have," Smith explained. It's a "step in the right direction," he added, eliminating cases where a manager is not on duty and no one in authority is on the premises.

In tandem with that is requiring a written employee health policy. Such a policy stipulates food service employees must report to the PIC if they are experiencing such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice or sore throat with fever, as well as infections on the hands, wrists or exposed areas of the arm.

"The biggest thing is you're trying to prevent more foodborne illness," Smith said. "(The policy) protects the public. (Workers) have to be restricted or removed."

One reason this has been problematic is that oftentimes, employees may be younger or in jobs where if they don't work, they don't get paid so tend to show up even when they're ill.

"We can't control whether the restaurant works with their employees on these things," Smith said. "You would hope they would."

There also used to be limitations to preparation of certain foods.

"Before, you couldn't have a medium rare hamburger," Smith explained. "There were certain things you couldn't order in a restaurant."

That is changing, he said. Beef, lamb, eggs, fish, pork, poultry, shellfish -- any animal food product -- can now be prepared to order, with an advisory. The customer, he explained, must be informed that consuming such items may increase the risk of foodborne illness.

Davin Madden, health director for Wayne County, said the environmental health staff has been working diligently to get the word out to food service businesses and distributing information.

"Our inspectors have spent the last year learning the new rules and how to administer them," he said. "We have also worked with our local food provider community to help them make the transition to the new system."

Smith said he is confident that new policies will be beneficial to patrons of eating establishments.

"I think the public should feel better about these changes," Smith said. "It's safeguarding them from preventing illness. ... I believe it gives the opportunity, hopefully more assurance that a lot of places are preventing foodborne illness.

"Our job is to protect public health. It's a teaching process. We try to educate as much as possible. We're regulating, but we also try to educate them."