In response to a recent concern about meat handling practices, Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers asked a Siskiyou County Public Health Department inspector about proper practices, and how restaurants, delis and other local establishments are monitored.

In response to a recent concern about meat handling practices, Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers asked a Siskiyou County Public Health Department inspector about proper practices, and how restaurants, delis and other local establishments are monitored.

Consumer Protection Division manager Dina Elinson, who has been inspecting local facilities for more than 18 years, said that by and large, Siskiyou County’s nearly 400 establishments do a good job of following safety protocols.

She explained the intricacies of handling raw food and ready-to-eat food, which business owners must be particularly careful about to ensure harmful bacteria isn’t spread.

Elinson talked about the use of gloves (they aren’t mandatory) and a new state law that made a training course mandatory for all workers who handle food in restaurants, cafeterias and delis. She provided details about the Health Department’s inspection process and how public complaints are handled.

It’s all about creating barriers to spreading disease, Elinson said, referring to meat handling procedures as being “logical,” things you’d do in your own kitchen.

“If a person just makes sandwiches, for instance,  they don’t need to wash their hands in between, until they are contaminated by raw meat products,” Elinson said.

But when they change tasks, they need to wash their hands, unless they’re going from sandwich making to cutting meat, which isn’t considered to be problem, Elinson said.

Gloves
While some laws are set in stone, such as the arrangement of sinks and other regulations, the use of gloves is not mandatory, Elinson said.

“They are a suggested use... some chain restaurants have adopted the use of gloves, and it can be about public relations and perception.”

However, gloves can give a food server a false sense of security, Elinson said.

“You’ll see them touch their hair or their nose, then  wash the gloves, take them off and set them on the counter. They’ll come back from the bathroom and put on the same gloves... this isn’t offering any additional protection,” Elinson pointed out, especially because gloves are meant to be used only once and cannot be washed.

For these reasons, Elinson said she does not enforce the wearing of gloves, except in certain situations such as if the food handler has cuts or bandages on their hands. Gloves are also required for those with long, decorated nails or people who wear an excessive number of rings, she said.

“We cannot prevent all illnesses, but we can put up barriers to stop the spread of potentially harmful organisms, Elinson said. “We must always assume there are harmful bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses.”

Training
Every establishment is required to have one employee with a safe food handling certificate, which is acquired after an extensive course, followed by a test. This individual is responsible for training all other employees in safe practices, and the certificate must be renewed every five years.

Beginning in January, California Law requires all those who are involved with the preparation, storage, or service of food in a food facility to undergo training, Elinson said. The training can be done online and takes about two hours, covering topics including hand washing, cross-contamination, temperatures, disease prevention and hygiene. The training is good for three years, Elinson said.

Each food facility must maintain records documenting that all employed food handlers posses a valid food handler card. These records must be provided upon request.

Inspections
Major facilities, such as  busy restaurants and cafeterias are inspected three times a year, Elinson said.
Smaller retailers will be checked at least once a year by a Registered Environmental Health Specialist for compliance with the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law.

If a formal complaint is made, the Consumer Protection Division follows up within days, Elinson said.

All routine inspections are unannounced. REHS inspectors observe and check for proper food temperatures, food handling and storage, worker hygiene, facility sanitation and maintenance, said Elinson.

If major violations are found, they must be corrected immediately. Often this is done while Elinson is still present, and once the correction is made business can continue. Only in extreme circumstances when something cannot be corrected is a business immediately shut down, Elinson said, and this is rare.

All violations, whether they are major or minor, are listed on the form Elinson uses. All inspection forms are for public to review online at www.co.siskiyou.ca.us/PHS/envhealth/foodinsp/foodinsp.aspx

“Accidents happen, it’s how those accidents are addressed that’s important,” Elinson said.

Those with a specific complaint about an establishment are encouraged to fill out and sign a form that is available at city halls around the county, or by calling the Public Health Department at (530) 841-2100.

“Our county is one of the few places where the health department doesn’t just enforce, but also educates,” Elinson said. For example, when compliance checks are conducted, Elinson usually leaves a handout or two.

“Education is the only way we can improve things,” Elinson said. “In bigger counties, this relationship isn’t strong anymore.”