A class held Monday in the county’s Human Services building is designed to ensure that restaurants and other entities that serve food are doing so safely.
About 40 restaurant, long-term care facility workers and others who provide food turned out for a class, designed to certify them to comply with new food safety guidelines, according to Lisa Ford, food and lodging supervisor with the county’s health and nutrition center.
The classes are the result of changes in the state’s food safety code that were adopted last year and took effect last September.
Ford and County Director of Environmental Health Johnny Easter called the changes “probably the most comprehensive, major changes in the state’s history with regard to food safety.”
The code changes involve primarily food safety knowledge and safe handling practices, as well as mandating the certification of restaurant employees.
“In the past, we’d award a restaurant with two points on their inspection if they passed an accredited exam, but now that’s required and if they haven’t passed the exam the restaurant will lose two points,” Ford said.
Other changes involve restaurant employees’ health policies.
“Restaurant employees are no longer allowed contact with food using bare hands,” she said. “They must now wear gloves or use utensils.”
The changes also involve using a lower temperature on food held in cold storage, and regulations involving how long restaurants can keep food in cold storage.
“All ready-to-eat food products must be used in a timely manner and must be marked when held for 24 hours or more, and the approved cold holding temperature is going down from 45 to 41 degrees,” Easter said.
But the news isn’t all about headaches for restaurateurs.
Easter said the new guidelines will allow more cooked-to-order food, including a medium-rare hamburger.
“This opens up the ability to do a lot more things in the kitchen,” he said, noting that the consumer advisory gives consumers more choice. “They can do a lot more things than they used to like cooking sunny-side-up eggs or rare burgers.”
And the necessity of the class also is mandated by code changes.
“In the past, only one person per establishment had to be certified,” said Carmen Long of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which is working closely with the health department. “Now, there has to be someone certified on staff at all times. Previous classes were mostly made up of managers, but now we’re seeing a lot of people we haven’t seen before, because (food establishments) are having to expand their certifications to cover the facilities at all time.”
But Long said the response to the new code has been primarily positive.
“They’re learning awareness,” she said, looking over the crowd in the class. “We can actually see the light bulbs go off when they learn something.”
And Easter said the classes are changing attitudes as well.
“The one major thing I take away from this is it takes us from being regulators to educators,” he said. “We develop relationships with restaurant workers to the point that they know us well enough to call us and ask questions.”
But Ford said county restaurateurs already were trying to be as safe as possible.
“In Surry County as a whole they do a really good job and truly care about the quality of food they serve and the cleanliness of their establishment,” she said. “I feel really good about that.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about the new food code, or to see inspection reports from county restaurants can visit surry.com and scroll down to the bottom left of the screen to click on restaurant ratings or the new food code.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.