Changes in the state’s food safety code are placing a few new restrictions on restaurateurs in the county, but officials say residents can now order that medium-rare hamburger.
The changes, which were adopted by the General Assembly on July 19, took effect Sept. 1.
County Director of Environmental Health Johnny Easter said the changes are “probably the most comprehensive, major changes in the state’s history with regard to food safety.”
“There are substantial amount of changes in the way we inspect restaurants,” Easter told the board of commissioners recently, noting that his department has conducted five different training sessions around the county to get the word out.
“(The training sessions) were attended by more than 230 people representing 116 facilities,” he said.
During their presentation to the board, Easter and inspector Lisa Ford said the majority of the changes involve food safety knowledge and safe handling practices.
“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.
“As of the first of the month, there will no longer be 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.”
According to Easter, response to the new guidelines has run the gamut of emotions.
“It’s a change, and it’s going to be a learning process for the restaurants involved,” he said. “But we’re going to be there educating and working with them to make everyone comfortable and make for a smooth transition.
“This is new for us as well, but we’re going to approach it from the standpoint that everyone should be comfortable with these new guidelines because they are giving the consumer more science-based protection,” Easter added.
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.