Blog Archives

Letter From The Editor: Vilsack in the Veepstakes

Taylor’s Maid Rite in Marshalltown, IA had a real friend in Thomas James “Tom” Vilsack, 40th Governor of Iowa.

He gave them a waiver from state food safety laws to allow a 1920s-style cooking vessel risking cross contamination in the production of loose meat sandwiches. There’s no record of anyone being sickened taylor'smaidrite_406x250or killed by the Vilsack waiver. His loose food safety enforcement for loose meat was in effect during much of his term, from 1999-2007.

Iowa’s next Governor, Democrat Chet Culver, eliminated the Vilsack waiver for  Taylor’s.   Iowans love their loose meats and  other older Maid Rites may have been in on the waiver.

It’s an ironic little story because, as we all know, Vilsack went on to become Secretary of Agriculture with responsibility for food safety of  meat, poultry, eggs, and since March 1, catfish.

It was  looking like Vilsack  would remain as Secretary of Agriculture right up to the hour of Obama’s departure from office next Jan. 20, about 187 days from now.

But in recent hours,  there have been reports that this long-time friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton could be tapped as the Democratic nominee for Vice President. This will all work out in the next few days. But as long as the possibility is there, it gives up the opportunity to dish up dirt on Vilsack for the “feeding frenzy” that is sure to follow if he does get the job.

We wonder, for example, how many of the nation’s ace political reporters know that Congress made a law back in 1993 that says the President shall nominate someone who, subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate,  shall serve as USDA’s Under Secretary for Food Safety.

But guess what?   We don’t have one.

Tom Vilsack-featuredSince Dr. Elisabeth Hagen left government three years ago, there has not been an Under Secretary for Food Safety. Nor has anyone been nominated, let alone confirmed. No one talks about it, but it’s pretty clear it goes unfilled on purpose.

Washington political writers have already depicted Vilsack as a dull white guy who may have some agribusiness contacts but that’s about all he has going for him,  other than his long friendship with the Clintons. But tell me, does a dull guy play fast and loose with loose meat and dare to flout the law requiring the naming of an  Under Secretary for Food Safety?

I think not.

Vilsack cuts a cerebral figure atop the behemoth USDA with its $ 140 billion budget reaching  into every corner of the country. But underneath, he’s a prospective  vice president who likely wants it bad.   He’s probably be a lot like Joe Biden, just with less chortling

The principal qualification to be a modern day vice president is simply the ability to grovel.  It did not use to be that way. Harry Truman could drink bourbon down at the Capitol until FDR assumed room temperature. But the change came when Jimmy Carter gave Walter Mondale a White House office. From then on the vice president as his own man was out and the groveling vice presidents have been in.

Vilsack’s groveling was demonstrated to be a good as it gets. Most of Michaelle’s Obama’s early initiatives fell upon Secretary Vilsack, everything from the “Let’s Move” obesity project to the White House garden fell on USDA’s people and budgets to pull off.

And the childhood friend says Tom and Christie Vilsack are Iowa’s “sanitized” version of Bill and Hillary Clinton. One never knows if a candidate for President wants the pressure of being held up to any kind of standard.

These are, after all, the highest offices in the land.   Shouldn’t that be enough?

 

Food Safety News

Letter From The Editor: Stampeding to Greeley

One of the strengths of Food Safety News is that it is not all in one place. Since its inception, Food Safety News kept a presence in Washington D.C., Seattle, and Denver. In addition of course we’ve used contributing writers and freelancers from all points on the map.

I’ve always thought geography is important. Even in our wired world, who and what we see and do in the physical world remains critical to how we view the real world.  It is in that spirit that I feel compelled to disclose that I have traded Denver or at least its massive arch of western suburbs for Greeley.

I think this is going to be good for me, and for Food Safety News. Let me tell you why and then I will give you the lay of the land.

Relocating to Greeley is going to put me in touch with more people who are potential sources for stories. Not only is Weld County one of nation’s major farm counties practicing irrigated agriculture on a massive scale with waters flowing from the nearby Rocky Mountains, but also Greeley is major food production center, especially dairy and beef.

The North American headquarters of JBS is located in Greeley, along with one of the company’s biggest beef processing plants with a history that dates back to 1960.

Now I am not the first to be attracted to this concentration of food and agricultural activity. Harvest Public Media is already here doing good work. It is a collection of NPR affiliates, including KUNC in Greeley, dedicated to covering farm and food issues.

While Denver will remain only an hour away, I am told you have arrived in Northern Colorado when you do not go down that road casually.  Greeley and its neighboring cities of Fort Collins and Loveland aren’t Denver suburbs and you don’t need to go anywhere.

Greeley was of course named for Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune and his agriculture editor, Nathan Meeker, who was the one who invited applications for “A Western Colony” that would be formed at the confluence of the South Fork and Cache la Pourde Rivers. More than 3,000 responded and Meeker took only the best of best.

The Greeley he built was so straight-laced and orderly that local historians say the jail was used only to store buffalo hides. While Horace Greeley apparently only visited the city named for him once, in 1870, it was a resounding success. Forty years later, the Great American Desert, with those mountain waters had turned surrounding Weld County into a true Garden of Eden.

There seems to be an endless fascination to how Greeley works.  The city did not allow liquor by the drink until 1969, but its sense of order did not please everyone.

Sayyid Qutb, radical leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, left Greeley after a stint at the Colorado State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Colorado) feeling that western culture was too materialistic and barbarian. He apparently did not like seeing young men and women holding hands or going to dances.  Qutb’s reaction to Greeley, some say, is what brought on Al-Qaeda.

We’ve arrived during the 91st running of the Greeley Stampede, a Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) event by day with country stars by night. Put me down for Josh Turner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Trace Atkins.

There will be time enough to finish moving and unpacking when the rodeo leaves town.

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: No Celebrity Chefs, Please

Before turning back east, I stopped off in Seattle for 25 years during a period when the Emerald City seemed closer to Tokyo than New York. I remember learning from two Asahi Shimbun newspaper reporters of a TV show sweeping up in Japan called “Iron Chef.”

It would probably be another year before it was picked up on the Food Network on cable TV in Seattle so I could see “Iron Chef” for myself. It turned out to be the best group-watching since “Dallas.” Who can forget Chairman Kaga shouting out, “Allez cuisine!” (“Go cook!”) to get it all going in “Kitchen Stadium”? And, which “Iron Chef” would be up that night?

For a short time, it was all great fun. And, just as Larry Hagman, who played J.R. Ewing on “Dallas” was one of those “all hat, no cattle” type of guys, so, too, was Takeshi Kaga, who played Chairman Kaga of “Iron Chef” fame. Before “Iron Chef,” he was already a well-known stage and movie actor in Japan, but he was not at all associated with cooking.

As the host, he had a corral of “Iron Chefs” who were the genuine talents, along with those brought into compete with them during any of the 92 episodes. Nevertheless, with all the lights and smoke, it was a really big show. It was ground-breaking in raising awareness about chefs in a way those more static cooking shows never did.

I’ve not seen “Top Chef,” which has been running for a decade or so on Bravo. It also features a competitive format but moves to a different location each season. It has apparently outdistanced the original “Iron Chef.” Meanwhile, the Food Channel has revived the Japanese program with “Iron Chef America.”

With food being both a segment topic for some networks and the complete package for others such as The Cooking Channel and the Food Network, the “celebrity chef” has become a fully developed phenomenon in popular politics and culture.

I could not care less about what they have to say. Beyond saying, “Thank you very much,” I think celebrities should be seen, but not heard. Act, or sing, or cook. Show me what you are known for and be gracious about it, but spare me your opinions about most anything.

Adding celebrity status to someone wearing a chef’s white hat also does not do much for me. Maybe if there were a long line of chefs, or even one or two, who have been known as food-safety leaders, I would think about it differently. But I cannot name one.

I know many chefs earn the title through extensive academic training and on-the-job experience. Also, I know others get the title from their brother-in-law, who owns the restaurant chain.

In preparing to write this, I’ve watched a number of interviews of celebrity chefs, and they share a common danger sign. I’ve not seen one that included a tough, or even unexpected, question. I’ve seen people asking the questions whose main concern is their access to the “celebrities.”

So spare me your press releases about what some celebrity chef thinks about this or that. Some chefs do entertain, and some chefs do know how to cook. Just do whatever you do in the kitchen, and we’ll have no problems.

Unless, of course, the health department shuts you down for unsanitary practices. Then we will be interested in what you have to say.

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: A Year After Bill Keene’s Passing

It was a year ago that we lost Dr. Bill Keene, Oregon’s senior state epidemiologist, to acute pancreatitis at age 56. We missed him in 2014. He was posthumously awarded the 2014 NSF Food Safety Leadership Lifetime Achievement Award last April in Baltimore.

Keene was a guy who did his job with passion and humor. He was never limited by somebody else’s expectations. He was a dogged and determined investigator who was usually thinking outside the box.

We shared an interest in history. He had a foodborne illness museum in his office. When I published a list of the deadly foodborne illness outbreaks in history, he began helping me fine-tune it.

I was invited to speak to the California’s environmental health officers in Sacramento, and, as I was being introduced, my phone went off. It was Keene, who had discovered that we had overlooked a deadly outbreak that occurred nearly 100 year ago in Chicago. My audience did not mind waiting a moment so I could make the addition, and more than one explained it to others by saying, “Bill Keene’s talking to him before we get started.”

Bill traveled and was both known to his colleagues and open with the media. It got me thinking about where we are with state health departments. Because of the late Bill Keene and the extraordinary efforts of “Team Diarrhea,” conventional wisdom for several years was that Oregon and Minnesota were tops in capacity to combat foodborne illnesses.

Well, maybe it’s time to re-think the conventional wisdom. The second National Health Security Preparedness Index, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), is out. The index measures how prepared state health departments are to handle emergencies, but it looks at the capacities in such detail that it can also be used to compare specific items for many functions.

For example, many of the items that we think are important to food-safety investigations fall under the Index’s “health security surveillance” section. That’s where they note the number of state epidemiologists per 100,000 population and whether state public health labs are tied into certain data and management systems.

On these surveillance measures, the top performers for 2014 were South Carolina, New York, Michigan, Massachusetts and Hawaii. There are several other parts of the Index, including incident and information management, healthcare delivery, national preparedness level, countermeasure management and community planning and engagement.

When I first learned of the Preparedness Index, I thought it might be one of those designed to give every state a star for something, but it does end up with a range of performances and there is a lot of information for comparing one state to another. When all measurements are tallied, the Index has Utah, New York and Virginia on top.

It’s not the end-all, or even enough to cause me to think that Oregon and Minnesota are not still the best. That’s because being the best is not just about the assets kept in the barn, but the experience that’s available once the fire alarm goes off.  That’s why Bill Keene was so good at what he did.

What’s good is that ASTHO is willing to come up with measurements and come up with a way to spur more competition by the states. We’d like to see future reports specifically address outbreaks of disease as just as much of a preparedness challenge as a storm or a plane crash.

And what would be especially nice to see following my musings on the new Index report would be your thoughts on the subject. Which one or two states do you think are best at investigating foodborne illness outbreaks and why?

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: CA Law Likely to Increase Egg Prices, But What About Food Safety?

On Jan. 2, a new California law will require that shell eggs sold at retail in the state will come only from hens housed in larger cages, be they resident or non-resident hens. This change comes at a time when egg consumption and prices are both up to historic highs, an increase of 30-35 percent over this time last year.

The California experiment will likely create turmoil in egg markets and push prices higher in 2015. Californians might for a while even find egg counters empty.

The dirty little secret is that the California mandate will mean higher egg prices without buying much in the way of food safety. If we are going to up-end the egg industry with massively costly change, we might have done something more useful — such as invest in more pasteurized egg capacity. But food safety was not really part of the agenda for more elbow room for chickens.

California voters put the state’s egg producers on notice six years ago that, come Jan. 2, 2015, only eggs from hens in larger cages could be sold at retail in the state. Then, after hearing complaints about the disadvantage in-state producers would be under, the California Assembly amended the law to make it apply to out-of-state producers as well.

That was a first. Other states — Michigan, Oregon, and Washington — have adopted their own cage requirements, but only California is restricting trade from other states and foreign countries based on its rules for space requirements for chickens.

Before it took effect, opposing Midwestern egg-producing states were not getting much traction in federal court in California, but that may change once the market dislocation and higher egg prices kick in. Before the new mandate, California egg producers supplied only 1 in 3 eggs consumed in the state.

California consumers demand more eggs from somewhere, and there’s a lot of fog out there about whether enough caging capacity outside of California has been expanded to fulfill that demand within the new constraints of the law. Although they’ve been counting down the years to Jan. 2 since the initiative passed, the new California law does not seems to have had the required impact on how U.S. egg producers shelter their laying hens. And, as many as 95 percent of them might still use so-called battery-cage systems.

That figure might now be reversed within California. The mostly family-owned egg producers inside California have, in the past six years, made the capital investments to comply with Proposition 2 standards, which even they call “vague mandates on housing,” according to the Association of California Egg Farmers.

Changing out battery-cage infrastructure entirely in the U.S. would cost egg producers (or somebody) as much as $ 10 billion. The European Union move to so-called “enriched cages” became effective in 2012, although it is involved in litigation with about a dozen member states that have not gone along. EU producers reportedly spent more than $ 600 million on the changes.

Battery-cage infrastructure not only provides housing for the hens, but also are complex systems for feeding and watering, waste disposal, and collecting the eggs. Egg producers say battery cages help prevent disease and turn out cleaner eggs. Attempts to set a national standard for larger laying-hen cages failed both as standalone bills and as an inclusion to the 2014 Farm Bill.

My take is that, from a food-safety perspective, how cages are managed and operated is more important than design standards for cage sizes.

After the 2010 recalls over the big Salmonella outbreak involving Jack DeCoster’s Iowa egg farms, I was able to tag along with the teams of plaintiff lawyers and experts that the court allowed to go inside that part of the DeCoster kingdom. It was a bio-security area, meaning all these lawyers and experts had to dress up in those “sperm suits” with booties and mesh helmets.

Once inside, however, we all saw birds (including some chickens) freely flying about, rodents, and impressive amounts of manure. Some ares were more crowded than others. While the egg-laying and the feeding and watering continued in a house with about a half-million laying hens, one henhouse wall was literally being busted out from the pressure of all the manure that had been dumped behind it.

The wall was busting out because employees had fallen way behind in removing manure. One told me that heavy spring rains had made it impossible to get the chicken poop removed after it was stored up over the winter. He also said they were short-staffed. It became clear to me that the management and operation of egg-production systems should be the key concern.

It’s easy to think of the size of a cage in isolation, but that’s not realistic for large-scale egg production. These are huge systems that fill barns from floor to ceiling and wall to wall and represent a massive capital investment. Going into this change in California, we have consumers paying $ 4.49 per dozen for grocery store eggs. We can only guess how much more they are going to have to pay for bigger chicken cages.

But it is what it is. California won’t care how many eggs it breaks beginning Jan. 2. There will be all sorts of reactions over the law and treaties. But all that takes time, and everyday people eat eggs. Americans were on track to eat 266 each this year, or 23 dozen for each of us, according to the Egg Industry Center in Ames, IA. We ate five more eggs this year per capita than in 2013, and pricey beef and pork prices are also pushing up our egg consumption.

Every egg comes with some risk of Salmonella. Your risks go up if you often order sunny-side-up eggs, or if you have a taste for lightly soft-boiled eggs, or maybe you opt for Caesar salads. This applies to cage-free farms and even those backyard henhouses, which have been subject to a recent nationwide Salmonella outbreak.

Pasteurized eggs are available in the market. Lansing, IL-based Safest Choice, with an all-natural egg pasteurization process that eliminates Salmonella in eggs, appears to be doing nicely. The process does not change the nutrition or flavor. You can search the Safest Choice website for both nearby retailers and restaurants with pasteurized eggs.

But most eggs are sold raw. And the Salmonella risk is the same whether they are white or brown, conventional or organic. If this truly is the tipping point for somebody spending $ 10 billion to change out the housing for chickens, shouldn’t we get some improved food safety along the way?

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Naughty and Nice Nominations Now Due

Traditions mean more to us at Food Safety News than the town of Waging, Germany. You may have read about it. It’s the town in the Alps where the gentleman who long played Santa just decided to retire with no obvious successor.

The town decided to take this opportunity to dump Santa. It held a contest for teenage girls who competed to be the German town’s new Waging angel. Their hope is that the young angel will attract more holiday shoppers and tourists than their old, reliable St. Nick did.

During each of the five previous Christmas seasons that Food Safety News has been around, we’ve established publishing “Naughty and Nice” lists as one of our traditions. We’ve used the annual Naughty and Nice lists to call for extra recognition for those individuals who’ve done more or less for food safety than might be expected.

A lot about the Santa Claus story has evolved over the years. His bright red-on-white dress first appeared in a Coca-Cola advertisement that brightened up a Great Depression-era Christmas. Before that, Santa’s colors were blue, green, brown and gold.

Like Santa adopting those colors from Coke, he picked up the Naughty and Nice list from Nordic folk stories about a magician who rewarded good children while punishing the bad.

What this teaches us is that you don’t want to make wholesale changes in your Christmas traditions, but tweaks are acceptable. For our first five years, nominations for both the Naughty and Nice lists came entirely from the news and editorial staff of Food Safety News.

Either because he’s grown weary of our humor, or because he truly is a populist man of the people and friend to all, our publisher has suggested we open the nomination process to all Food Safety News readers.

So here’s the deal: If you wish to make one or more nominations to the Food Safety News Naughty or Nice lists for 2014, simply email me at [email protected]

We publish the lists on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so the sooner you send me your suggestions, the more likely they will be included. The key consideration is how the individual (preferred) or organization helped or harmed food safety during the year.

For reference, here are the Naughty and Nice lists from last year.

We wish Waging’s new town angel all the best. We just would never go that far.

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Restaurant Inspections

My first job was behind a soda fountain in a small town general store with a lunch counter and four booths. Ever since, I’ve had it in the back of my mind that I should someday open my own restaurant. Once, when I came close to doing it, a friend whom I’d talked out of buying a boat returned the favor by turning me away from the restaurant business.

A big job for food safety is the inspection of the nation’s 616,008 restaurants, where we drop 47 cents out of every dollar we spend on food. Inspecting all those restaurants and monitoring the food safety activities of their 13.5-million workers is a job that’s even too big for the federal government.

Restaurant inspections are a task we’ve assigned to approximately 2,800 local health departments, including city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal agencies. These local health departments license and inspect restaurants and provide food safety training for food service professionals.

State and local taxes and fees pay for restaurant inspections, and those funding sources have flatlined in recent years, leaving local health departments trying to do more with less. Many local programs call for doing two unannounced inspections at each restaurant per year.

However, the Association of Food and Drug Officials reports that local health departments conducted more than three-quarters of a million inspections (760,749) in 2009. The NPD Group, which tracks the restaurant market, says there were 584,653 restaurants operating in 2009. That means about 1.3 inspections per restaurant, not two. And local health department budget cuts had only begun in 2009. It’s likely there are restaurants in the U.S. that now go more than a year before being inspected.

And we depend on these local health departments for more than inspections. The National Association of County and City Health Officials, representing the 2,800 local departments, points out a few:

  • Trainings and technical assistance. Local health departments are responsible for training and certifying food safety managers at grocery stores, restaurants, and mobile food unit operations.
  • Frontline surveillance. Local health departments are often the first to receive and respond to reports of potential foodborne illness outbreaks and food safety-related consumer complaints at the local level.
  • Outbreak response and recalls. Local health departments respond to outbreaks, participate in recall efforts, and communicate with the public about outbreaks and recalls.
  • Public education. Local health departments utilize varied marketing and outreach techniques to educate the public on the importance of food safety practices.

Against this background, restaurant inspections were in the news this past week when Weld County, CO, adopted an A-to-F letter grading system, only to see it called into question by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As Food Safety News readers know, the A-to-F letter grading was listed among former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s accomplishments when he left office at the end of 2013. It’s been depicted by some as both being popular with New Yorkers and reducing foodborne illness in the Big Apple. I’m not sure if either of those claims stand up on their own, or if they were just part of the Bloomberg propaganda machine.

For better or worse, Bloomberg’s much heralded posting of letter grades has been able the only restaurant inspection reform during this fiscally tough period when most local health departments have just struggled to keep doing the basics.

Colorado, for example, has used the same inspection regime developed in the early 1990s.  State and local officials are starting a process that could lead to the first changes in a generation in the basis inspection system.   They want a better way of communicating with the public based not on solo incidents while weighing the prevalence of specific violations.

Fiscal recovery at the state and local level will likely cause many other restaurant inspection programs to review what they are doing for the first time in years.  This might be a good time for a larger top-to-bottom review of the effectiveness of different restaurant inspection systems.

We were dubious when claims were made that Bloomberg’s letter grade postings were responsible for declines in foodborne illnesses in New York City.   But, maybe it’s true.   We’d like to see respected organizations like the Association of Food and Drug Officials and the National Association of County and City Health Officials get together and analyze restaurant inspection systems across the country and come up with recommendations on the most effective.

While we think this is a good time for the professionals to come up more effective restaurant inspections, there is another problem.   If, as the data suggests, there are only 1.3 inspections annually for each restaurant, we have a problem.  Many local departments inspect all their restaurants two or three times a year.   That means there are restaurants out waiting more than a year to get inspected.

We need effective restaurant inspections and we need more of them.  It’s time to recognize years of fiscal cutbacks at the state and local levels have taken their toll and do something about it.

 

 

Food Safety News

Letter From The Editor: The Lost Art of Smoking

It’s occurred to me that maybe this is all about the demise of smoking skills.

It use to be that even those of us who did not smoke cigarettes knew how to do it. Learning  to smoke was just one of those necessary social skills you picked up  in about the sixth grade even if you had no intention of making it a habit.

It is why Bill Clinton made us all laugh when he said he’d tried marijuana, but did not inhale. But with the historic drop in cigarette smoking—from about half the population after World War II to less than 18 percent today, it is totally believable that someone does not know how to inhale. It’s a learned skill that’s no longer being encouraged or even taught.

And it may explain why there’s been such a boom in the popularity of foods infused with marijuana in Colorado—almost half of the legal pot sales being rung up are not for something you smoke, but something you eat. Many people don’t know how to smoke anymore, and that’s a good thing,

The lack of smoking skills is likely a contributing factor to the popularity of edible marijuana, which  accounts for 47.5 percent of Colorado’s newly legal pot sales. The state’s powerful Marijuana industry Group—think of that one as the chamber of commerce for recreational pot—says Colorado’s existing strong medical marijuana sales dating back to 2009 are also driving consumer choices.

In a few days, Colorado will become the first state in modern history to complete an entire year’s worth of legal marijuana sales. It’s been an experience unprecedented since Prohibition ended.  It’s not all coming out as predicted—the state cut its estimate for total marijuana tax collections by about $ 20 million.

But as an economic development tool, legal marijuana is hitting its mark and that high percentage of edibles is the main driver.  About 90 new or fairly new food manufacturing companies, mostly based in Denver, are turning out around 300 edible marijuana products.

Marijuana is infused in foods by turning it into the hash oil concentrate and mixing with other more typical ingredients. It’s a creative industry that’s getting pretty expansive. No one is making marijuana infused baby food yet, but just about everything else is on the list.

Everybody expects candy, cookies, cakes, browns, and snacks, but how about sauces for pizza or that next order of take-out wings? Thirsty? How about some marijuana infused root beer or maybe a cappuccino? Or maybe some grape, cherry, lemonade, or fruit punch in powdered form to take camping?

The recipe combinations are only limited by imagination. And there are no limits or testing on potency either. It’s not only buyer beware on strength but there’s also been no testing for contaminants (i.e. pathogens), pesticides, molds etc.

It’s left some of these infused products with potencies greater than advertised, making over-dosing possible, and some (consumer fraud?) weaker. “It’s like buying a bottle of whisky and ending up with a wine cooler,” a Denver TV station said after doing independent testing with the newspaper, USA Today.

This leaves Colorado with some questions at the end of year one. What about the children? And, where’s the state and local health departments? With so many infused marijuana products and with such iffy doses, these are the problems being dumped into the legislative hopper next month.

An industry-dominated stakeholder’s group could not come to agreement on how the 89 edible manufacturers could mark their products in a uniform manner so everyone would know they are not for children, or to how they might achieve more uniform results. As suppliers to 292 retail marijuana stores in the state accounting for almost half the revenue coming in, the industry fears messing with the edible manufacturers.

State and local health departments were cut out of their normal food safety roles by the voter initiative that placed all regulatory power over marijuana in the state Department of Revenue. It’s a joke to have the same regulatory agency that is promoting —you might even say marketing—marijuana also be charged with the safety of its food products. And the pot growers pay these  ”all purpose”  state regulators via fees.

Colorado’s health regulators have been relegated to being just another group of stakeholders when the Department of Revenue decides to invite them to the party. If there are any bright lights in the Colorado Legislature, they will start by correcting that little situation.  Child proofing the edibles will be easy after that one.

Food Safety News

Letter From the Editor: Happy Thanksgiving!

On Thursday, millions of Americans will sit down with family and friends, likely over a large turkey, for the most practiced meal of the year. Our familiarity with it, and the way we pass down the instructions for its preparation, is perhaps what gives the day its generally good food safety record.

The biggest food safety hurdle for this gathering is passed by following the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) advice: get a fresh turkey into the oven within two days and to keep it there for five and one-half hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for the typical 20 to 24-pound stuffed turkey. When the preparation time and the cooking time is added up, it still leaves all the time demanded by the National Football League (NFL) or other alternative activities of your choice.

People who, during all the other days of the year, are doing millions of different things, on Thanksgiving do almost exactly the same things. USDA’s National Economic Statistic Service reports that for 2014, Americans will consume 51 million turkeys on Thursday at a cost of about $ 1.15 per pound. It estimates that everyone eats about one and one-half pounds of turkey once the days of leftovers are included. Given the number of traditional side dishes, most households have an easy time preparing some to accommodate their vegan and vegetarian friends and family—about 5 percent of the U.S. population or about 16 million people, according to the Harris Interactive study.

Anyone who wants to pick up the tab for everybody on Thanksgiving should leave $ 2.375 billion on the table, plus tip, of course. It works out to something like $ 54.18 per household.

This will be the 151st Thanksgiving celebrated by Americans since President Abraham Lincoln first proclaimed the holiday in 1863. The day before that first official Thanksgiving, the Union Army attacked the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, at Chattanooga.  Since then, Thanksgiving has become a marker for how much U.S. history has been packed between its observation and the rapidly approaching the end of the year. That year-end feeling of complacency we develop on Thanksgiving Day preceded Pearl Harbor, The Chosin Reservoir, and the Battle of the Bulge.

So enjoy the family and friends. Eat safe. Have a Happy Thanksgiving. We’ll have a couple normal days around here before we slack off like the rest of you.  But we won’t become too complacent and neither should you.

Food Safety News