TEXAS: Inspection methods varied
Posted: September 20th, 2010 - 5:34pm
Source: Amarillo Globe-News
Food safety is not just about working by the numbers, but there are a lot of numbers involved.
Inspectors ask questions about food preparation methods and watch for things like how employees wash their hands, but they also add up the numbers.
There are demerit points and varying numbers of days between inspections, and that count is based on which category number a food establishment earns depending on the risk of illness.
Then there are the temperatures and times a food service establishment must hold potentially hazardous food, ph meters to measure acidity or alkalinity and water activity meters that check moisture content.
City regulations are based on state rules.
"In our city ordinance, we make it more restrictive," said Deree Duke, director of Environmental Health, the department that oversees food safety in Amarillo and by contract in Canyon and the rest of Potter and Randall counties.
Typically, the measurements and observations made by the registered sanitarians in the field don't yield dramatic results beyond adjusting sanitizing mixes for the restaurant's cleaning surfaces or putting paper towels at employee hand-washing sinks.
"But if there's an imminent health hazard, we can ask them to voluntarily close," Duke said.
"The sanitarian calls me and we make sure there's a discussion."
If the food establishment manager or owner doesn't comply, the city can seek a court order for closing.
"But that's never happened in the 25 years I've been here."
Disasters are handled differently.
If there is an event like a grease fire, even if the fire suppression equipment in a kitchen puts the flames out quickly, there can be smoke throughout a restaurant.
"Down to the salt and pepper shakers, they have to dump and sanitize them to make sure there's no danger like carcinogens," Duke said.
Other imminent health hazards that will force closure until Environmental Health authorizes reopening include extended interruption of electrical or water service, flood, sewage backup, misuse of poisonous or toxic materials or onset of an apparent foodborne illness outbreak, according to the department's enforcement policy.
Besides the extreme occurances, there are four risk categories that are differentiated in part by how much handling of raw food is involved.
The first is for places like snow cone stands, small bars, convenience stores or motels that serve continental breakfast.
That ranking requires inspection every 180 days.
Risk category II is for locations that do more cooking and reheating of food. They include groceries with delis, bakeries or seafood departments, medium-sized restaurants, school cafeterias and fast food restaurants with no written training procedures or operational procedures in place. Inspectors look at these locations every 90 days.
Risk category III includes facilities that serve people with possibly compromised immune systems such as daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes and large restaurants. They require inspection every 60 days.
The final category covers cafeterias with extensive handling of hot and cold foods and restaurants that provide 24-hour service of more than 249 people per day. These locations are inspected every 45 days.
Demerits: Mistakes add up
Zero demerits means no major violations like improper cooking techniques or employees not washing hands properly. Fifteen demerits is considered average. Thirty demerits require re-inspection within 24 hours.
• Five demerits are given for unsafe food holding temperatures, heating or cooling improperly, reheating too quickly and other improper techniques.
• Four demerits are given for personnel with infections, inadequate hand washing, poor hygienic practices, cross contamination, inadequate water supply, poor labeling and other practices.
• Three demerits are given for inadequate equipment and hand-washing facilities, insect contamination, rodents, toxic items, lack of properly working thermometers, no permit, no certified food manager and other situations that can cause adulterated food.
• Violations that earn four to five demerits must be corrected within 24 hours in the presence of the inspector, who will also return to re-inspect within 10 days.
• A violation calling for three demerits must be corrected in less than 10 days to be followed by a re-inspection.