In turn, the Siskiyou County Public Health agency is responsible for ensuring that food establishments are in compliance with the California Retail Food Code, said Siskiyou County's Consumer Protection Division Manager Jerry Lemos, who has been working for Siskiyou County for 28 years.
When hungry people visit one of Siskiyou County’s 400-some food facilities, they hope to have a delicious and pleasant experience. Most importantly, they expect to have a safe meal, and it’s the responsibility of each restaurant to ensure their chefs and food handlers are following necessary safety protocols.
In turn, the Siskiyou County Public Health agency is responsible for ensuring that food establishments are in compliance with the California Retail Food Code, said Siskiyou County’s Consumer Protection Division Manager Jerry Lemos, who has been working for Siskiyou County for 28 years.
It’s a big job for three food inspectors, Lemos said. In addition to the approximately 400 permanent food facilities, there are also 103 temporary facilities and about a dozen mobile facilities across the county.
In addition, the inspectors are kept busy with other duties, including responding to complaints for housing issues, rabies investigations, and pool and spa inspections.
“The goal is to inspect major facilities with high food service volume at least three times per calendar year,” said Lemos. This includes fast food restaurants and restaurants that are usually busy serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also includes school cafeterias that serve many students daily throughout the school year.
“Undoubtedly, there are those facilities which, for one reason or another, need to be inspected more frequently through re-inspections or even follow up visits,” said Lemos. “Facilities with little or no food preparation, such as a convenience store at a gas station, are inspected less frequently.”
Lemos went over some of the basic things an inspector looks for during an inspection.
Inspections begin with the process by which restaurants receive the food at their facility, he said.
“It is the responsibility of the owner (to be) diligent and inspect the food product upon delivery to make sure it is from an approved source and that it was delivered in good condition,” Lemos explained.
Potentially hazardous food products are stored in a refrigeration unit capable of keeping food within proper temperature range. The refrigeration unit must be capable of keeping up with storing potentially large volumes of food and with the constant opening and closing of doors as is common in a restaurant, Lemos said.
When inspectors visit a restaurant or cafeteria, both hot and cold temperatures are checked to make certain they are in the proper temperature range to inhibit bacterial growth.
Items such as bulk dry goods, potatoes and flour can be stored at room temperature in a designated area, Lemos said.
“In terms of the preparation of the items on the menu, the procedures of handling raw food and ready-to-eat food, business owners and operators must be particularly careful to ensure harmful bacteria isn’t spread,” said Lemos.
It’s important that food handlers know how harmful bacteria can be spread, through cross-contamination between raw, uncooked food to ready to eat food. This can happen through the use of shared utensils or poor food storage practices, said Lemos.
One of the most important measures to prevent food-borne illness is proper hand washing, Lemos added.
“Employees must always be conscious of personal hygiene, and the need to wash their hands when changing tasks, such as taking money from a customer and then washing their hands properly before touching food,” he said.
The use of gloves comes up frequently in discussion of personal hygiene and food safety, said Lemos.
There is no substitute for proper handwashing – the use of soap with hot water for 15 seconds, said Lemos. If the food handler has a cut or open wound on his or her hands, then they should wear gloves.
“However, the use of gloves can lead to a false sense of protection,” Lemos said. “Just as bare hand contact between different food products can cause cross contamination, so can the surface of a glove, so special attention has to be paid by the food handler as to what they are touching and not to be complacent to ensure cross contamination does not occur.”
In the State of California, every food establishment is required to have at least one certified food manager who has successfully passed an accredited food safety certification exam. In addition, each employee in a food facility must have their food handler certification card and re-certify every three years to keep their knowledge fresh.
“Inspections are only one part of the equation when it comes to food safety,” said Lemos. “Education is key to having a sound foundation to work from.”
Siskiyou County inspectors frequently provide handouts and brochures to food facilities emphasizing a specific topic such as proper handwashing, temperature controls, and vector controls, Lemos said.
Employee and patron restroom facilities are also inspected for compliance with the food code, said Lemos.
“Things we look at are hot water with soap and single serve paper towels for handwashing. Overall sanitation of restroom facilities is also looked at.”
Inspectors also check the garbage storage areas both inside the facility and outside to ensure there is adequate storage and refuse removal on a regular basis (at least every seven days). The refuse area must be maintained to prevent the harborage and or propagation of rodents and insects.
After each inspection, a report is written by the inspector identifying the violations observed. The report is reviewed with the owner/operator or manager/person in charge so they are aware of what was observed and what needs to be corrected by signing the inspection report and receiving a copy, said Lemos.
The severity of each violation is also discussed, Lemos said, and a timeline established for compliance.
Reports are posted online for public review at www.co.siskiyou.ca.us/PHS/envhealth/foodinsp/foodinsp.aspx
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.