Food safety program proposed in Summit
SUMMIT COUNTY – Summit County might become the guinea pig for a pilot program designed to help county environmental health officials ensure that restaurants comply with food safety standards.
State budget cuts have resulted in cuts to local environmental health departments, making it harder for inspectors to visit restaurants to ensure employees are using safe food-handling practices.
County environmental health director Jim Rada is not required to conduct food safety trainings, although his department has held them for business owners who have requested them in the past. He is, however, required to conduct food safety inspections twice a year on full-service establishments and once a year on limited service restaurants.
But he doesn’t have the personnel. Last year, his department was able to complete about half of the 560 inspections required by the state, he said. He welcomes the proposed program.
The program, outlined recently at a local chapter meeting of the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), would serve as an umbrella program for the four existing food safety programs currently recognized by the state, as well as others Rada deems acceptable.
The training program, called the Colorado Food Safety Seal of Commitment, would offer monthly training sessions to employees in the food industry. A seal of commitment would be awarded to operations where at least one manager is trained in a manager food safety program and has passed a Conference of Food Protection-approved exam. Another requirement is that at least 70 percent of full-time employees and half of the part-time employees have been trained in an employee-level food safety program and have passed a similar certification exam.
“For the most part, the industry does a great job; it cares about public health,” said CRA education spokeswoman Mary Mino. “It’s a community awareness program to let people know we care about food service, that we’re paying attention to it.”
“It would definitely be a benefit to the community, especially in a community that relies so heavily on the restaurant industry,” Rada said. “The health risks associated with food in our community are pretty great in terms of the high turnover of employees, a lot who don’t have basic training and a lot of managers that can’t provide it because they don’t know it themselves. This could provide some assurance to customers that the people who are handling their food are handling it properly.”
Some restaurateurs at the Summit County chapter meeting expressed concern about the potentially high cost of training numerous part-time and seasonal employees, especially those who never come near food.
The program, Mino said, can be adapted to accommodate local and regional needs, such as those experienced in resort towns. Thus, employees like doormen and hostesses might merely have to participate in a “smart staff” program that encourages basic hygiene. Those who handle food – cooks and waitstaff – would go through a more rigid program addressing food temperatures, undercooked food and sanitation.
“That’s the beauty of this program,” Mino said. “The basic premise would be the same. You’d have to be recognized by some acceptable form of training. The two chapters (including the Breckenridge Restaurant Association) can define what’s unique to their chapters and write the policy.”
“The goal is to get the industry to take it on,” Rada said. “It gets the industry to buy into food safety and live up to the standards they set out for themselves. It would be a real good feather in their cap to make this a big thing. It stands to be a big thing across the state.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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