TAKE 5: Restaurant inspections just one of Lee Health Department’s roles

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

This week, we Take 5 with staff members of the Lee County Health Department about local restaurant inspections, one of the many services the department provides. Staff includes Health Director Roy Warren and team members Joe West, Aaron Eubanks, John Kase and Heath Cain.

Perhaps the most well-known service the department provides is inspections of local restaurants. What do people need to know about the inspection grade restaurants are required to post, and what other services do you provide outside the scope of restaurant inspections?

The Lee County Environmental Health division currently consists of five employees. We are authorized to regulate and educate on all aspects of food and lodging, on-site wastewater, well and preparedness activities. Childcare, lead poisoning prevention, tattoo and public swimming pool inspections are also completed by this office.

The number of restaurant inspections per year is based off the menu of the facility and how many food items are cooked, cooled and reheated. If a facility cooks, cools and reheats four or more potentially hazardous foods, then the facility is inspected four times per year. Currently, there are more than 1,000 required food and lodging inspections required annually in Lee County.

The grade is the summation of the inspection during the time the inspector is completing the inspection. It is a snapshot of the standard operating procedures the facility utilizes to maintain daily operations. The inspection provides the Environmental Health Specialist (EHS) the capabilities to educate the person in charge (PIC) as to proper procedures that must be maintained.

When a restaurant is reinspected, it is because the facility received a score of less than 90. The business owner must contact the EHS to request a re-inspection. After the request is made, the EHS has 15 days to return to complete the re-inspection.

State statute provides more than 50 types of violations that lead to a reduced grade. What are the most common violations your inspectors encounter?

The most common violations observed during the inspection process are improper cooling of cooked foods and the inability of facilities to maintain proper hot and cold holding temperatures. All cooked foods that require cooling must be cooled from 135 degrees to 70 degrees within two hours, and 70 degrees to 45 degrees in four hours or fewer. The cooling process must be completed in shallow containers or by utilizing the freezer to enhance the process. All hot foods must be hot held at 135 degrees or greater, and cold food items 45 degrees or less. This must be monitored by the PIC to ensure consistency within the establishment.

And what are the most egregious?

The most egregious violation observed is improper hand-washing.

Proper hand-washing is vital to ensure that potentially hazardous foods are safely prepared. The new food code requires a barrier between ready-to-eat foods and hands to prevent cross contamination. Gloves will suffice as a barrier, but wax paper, spatulas and tongs are approved as well. Gloves must be removed at the completion of a task and hands washed before beginning another task. It is imperative that hands be washed properly to prevent potential cross contamination when shifting from one task to another.

Food permits are revoked when a grade is below 70. How often does that occur, and what are the options for restaurants getting a score that low?

The score is based on the culmination of violations observed during an inspection. Once a facility scores less than 70, it must resubmit a food service application to this office. The application must be approved by this office, and the facility must meet all current rules and regulations before it will be allowed to reopen.

Many places other than restaurants serve food, including schools, hospitals and retirement facilities, recreational facilities, festival food vendors, etc. Do those types of food service locations have different standards? And what kinds of challenges do they present to your staff?

The facilities mentioned above have the same standards as restaurants. Recreational facilities receive either a Limited Food Service (LFSE) permit or Temporary Food Establishment (TFE) permit, however. This permit allows the facility to operate during the season or for up to 21 consecutive days. Festival food vendors utilize the TFE permit as well to sell potentially hazardous foods at festivals, fairs, special events, etc.

The primary challenge this department faces is the transient nature of a person in charge, as one-on-one training with the PIC is required to explicate the new Food Code rules and regulations. Educating the PIC is essential to ensure consistency within the establishment. To apprise a PIC concerning the new Food Code rules and regulations requires this department to utilize more time during the inspection process to assess and educate.