The backbone of the Health Department's Retail Food Safety Program is education and inspections. This food safety program is conducted by the Health Department's Environmental Health Division. The Division promotes food safety education through collaboration with the retail food industry through such alliances as the Monterey County Food Safety Advisory Council. Most food handlers and business owners thoroughly understand the importance of food safety as a responsibility to their customer's health and safety. On the business side, it is also in the interest of retail food facility operators to maintain the safety and quality of the food they serve to assure the long-term success of their businesses, as well as to help sustain the health of Monterey County's important tourist economy. But given the high turnover rate of employees in the food industry and the high turnover rate of retail food businesses, continuing educational and inspection efforts are very important to assure food safety.
How is Food Safety Education Provided?
Retail food businesses routinely take advantage of educational opportunities that are provided to them by the Environmental Health Division. For example, food safety classes are taught in both English and Spanish at frequent intervals throughout the year and in various locations within the County. Food safety class schedules and reference materials are available online and by request. Each September during Food Safety Month the Environmental Health Division conducts an annual and very successful Food Safety Workshop. This educational event has attracted large numbers of participants from the retail food industry. In addition, Environmental Health Inspectors routinely provide safe food handling education to food facility operators and food-handlers during the course of their inspections. A post-inspection review of inspection results is conducted with food facility operators as another opportunity for inspectors to provide food safety education.
Why Inspect Food Facilities?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 76 million residents of the United States become ill each year due to contaminated or unsafe food. To help safeguard the public health from this threat, Environmental Health Division Retail Food Safety Program professionals inspect all County retail food facilities under the mandate and authority of the California Health & Safety Code division commonly referred to as the California Retail Food Code (CalCode). Aside from this legal mandate, and in a more basic sense, the Environmental Health Division inspects retail food facilities as the representatives of the consumer public who do not have the practical ability themselves to observe food preparation, food handling or food storage. Inspection results provide information to assist the public in making informed decisions as to the food safety at a favorite restaurant or food facility.
How Do I Know If a Food Facility Has Been Inspected With What Results?
Environmental Health Specialists conduct inspections of all retail food facilities within the Incorporated and unincorporated jurisdictions of Monterey County. The results of inspections can be viewed by the public on Environmental Health Division's Restaurant & Food Facility Inspection Results website. In addition, State Law requires that a retail food facility operator provide a copy of the most recent inspection report to a requesting customer for the customer's review. Copies of inspection may also be obtained from the Environmental Health Division upon request.
What Does the Gold Inspection Seal Displayed at Food Facilities Mean?
At the conclusion of an inspection, if a restaurant or other type of food facility achieves substantial compliance with the California Retail Food Code (CalCode) and the enhanced criteria of the Gold Inspection Seal Program, then the food facility operator is offered the Monterey County Gold Inspection Seal to display to the public. The Gold Inspection Seal indicates to the public that the food facility has met high standards of cleanliness and safe food handling. A Gold Inspection Seal will be removed by the inspector if a food facility no longer meets the criteria.
How Often Are Retail Food Facilities Inspected?
Routine unannounced inspections of food facilities will vary from one to three times per year based on risk. The frequency of inspections is determined by the type of retail food business and the relative potential risk for foodborne illness posed by the types of food prepared, handled and stored. For example, a convenience store selling only commercially pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods would not pose the same level of risk as a full service restaurant that prepares menu items from scratch containing potentially hazardous food such as meat, seafood and dairy products. If potentially hazardous food products are improperly handled and stored they pose a much higher probability of causing foodborne illness. Therefore, in this example, a low risk convenience store would not warrant the same frequency of inspections as the full service restaurant.
Additional inspections may be conducted in response to a consumer complaint or for investigation of a suspected food-borne illness. To assure corrections are made, follow-up inspections of food facilities are also scheduled if critical code violations are observed during the previous routine inspection.
Environmental Health Specialists work diligently to maintain the food safety integrity of Monterey County's food facilities through unannounced regular inspections; and as warranted, follow-up inspections. The following is a list illustrating the types of retail food facilities that are inspected:
· Restaurants and Delicatessens
· School Cafeterias
· Licensed Health Care Facilities
· Markets and Convenience Stores
· Hotels and Motels
· Mobile Food Facilities (Catering Trucks and Push Carts)
· Farmer's Markets and Special Event Fairs & Expositions
· Detention Facilities (County & City Jails)
· Employee Housing Facilities (Farm Labor Camps)
· Organized Camps
What Happens During a Food Facility Inspection?
A typical food facility inspection consists of the following main elements:
· Examination of food handling procedures
· Checking hot food cooking and holding temperatures and cold food holding temperatures
· Examination of food worker hygiene
· Review of food preparation and storage methods
· Review of general facility sanitation practices and facility cleanliness
· Inspection of food related and other equipment to assure good repair and cleanliness
· Interview with the food facility operator at the conclusion of the inspection
· Compliance assurance regarding any outstanding violations
What If I Want to Open A New Food Facility or Remodel an Existing One?
Environmental Health Specialists are trained and required by California law to review all proposed construction plans for new and remodeled food facilities to assure that the design, finished structure and equipment will support safe and sanitary food preparation, food handler personal hygiene, proper food storage and ease of cleanability. Inspectors may require certain design changes to bring a food facility into conformance with the California Retail Food Code and food safety best practices standards.
It is also important to note that it is illegal for any business to sell or give away food to the public without a valid Health Permit, including temporary or charitable community events. Applications for a Health Permit can be downloaded from Environmental Health's website. An Environmental Health Division inspector must approve the Health Permit application before a food facility can commence operating. In addition to being required by law, Health Permits allow the Environmental Health Division to track food facilities in its data management system. This data is used for assuring food facilities have been approved for operation, for scheduling inspections, for allowing rapid notification and verification in case of food product recalls and to rapidly identify food facilities that may be of interest during foodborne illness outbreak investigations.
What are the Qualifications of an Inspector (Environmental Health Specialist)?
An inspector for the Environmental Health Division has the formal title of Environmental Health Specialist. Inspectors must be registered with the California Department of Public Health's (CDPH) Registered Environmental Health Specialist Program. New inspectors typically are hired as paid CDPH-certified interns. An intern is obligated to complete their internship and pass the CDPH administered Registration test within three years of initial employment. The internship requires the hiring jurisdiction to provide several hundred hours of direct training and up to 1500 hours of supervised on-the-job experience. Other minimum requirements to qualify as an intern and to qualify for registration include the completion of a minimum 30 units of college or university science coursework and the attainment of a Bachelor's Degree. California Health and Safety Code specified courses in biology, microbiology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, statistics, epidemiology, and etymology must be completed prior to sitting for the Registration Examination. Once registered, Environmental Health Specialists receive additional training in the environmental health program to which they are assigned. Each Registered Environmental Health Specialist is a highly trained professional who uses his or her specialized skills to help protect public health.
What's Special About Monterey County's Retail Food Safety Program?
In 2007, Monterey County's Retail Food Safety Program enrolled in the federal Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Standards Program. Monterey County is now one of only approximately six counties in California that has met the extraordinarily rigorous requirements of certification by the FDA, under FDA Standard No. 2, for a federally Trained Regulatory Staff. As a result of the many staff training programs and program audits required by FDA, Monterey County's Retail Food Safety Program has emerged as one of the best programs in the United States. Highly trained and FDA-certified food inspectors help to assure the highest level of retail food safety for Monterey County's residents and tourists.