Garfield County builds successful food safety consumer protection program
Spanish language food safety classes offered July 11
June 16, 2016
GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County has launched a new consumer protection program within its Public Health department, which is responsible for working with the 341 retail food establishments within the county. Initial response to professional education programs for restauranteurs has been strong locally, with the first class attracting 75 participants from 20 different restaurants.
“We work with any establishment that sells food to consumers, such as restaurants, grocery stores, school kitchens and even food trucks,” said Natalie Tsevdos, environmental health specialist with Garfield County Public Health.
Before Garfield County set up its program, restaurant inspections here were directed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in Denver, which has recently been turning over responsibility for inspections to counties over the last few years. Local public health departments statewide regularly inspect businesses that serve food, to ensure that safe food handling procedures are being followed.
“Having a local program should be helpful to business owners and consumers in Garfield County. Our staff lives and works here in the valley. We want to be a resource for food establishments, to help them incorporate food safety into their everyday practices,” said Tsevdos.
Consumer protection inspectors ensure that safeguards are in place to protect the public from becoming ill. Tsevdos adds, “It can be difficult to determine if a particular meal caused illness. People instinctively target the last thing they ate.” Symptoms of food-borne illness can take anywhere from a few hours to fifty days to occur. Pinpointing a specific food or meal can be difficult. In most cases, people do not go to a doctor for samples to be collected, and the onset of symptoms varies greatly between different pathogens and different people. In most cases, by the time symptoms are identified, the food suspected of causing illness is gone.
“We take an educational approach. We want to be a resource for training and education,” said Tsevdos. “Education is the key for ongoing compliance. We don’t want to see the same issues repeating themselves. We offer classes for food handlers and we talk about why certain things are a violation. If people understand why we have certain rules, they are more likely to comply. We are only in a restaurant for three hours a year. The rest of the time it is up to the business to practice safe food handling. So, we want to be the best resource we can be.”
The program has also begun to offer additional services to local establishments, including pre-operational inspections, as an opportunity for new businesses to receive food safety training before a kitchen opens to the public. The program will regulate special and temporary events such as festivals, and be able to respond quickly to local consumer inquiries.
“One of the things I keep hearing is how nice it is for local businesses to have the same inspector every time. We can get to know a business, and its operational considerations without the owners or staff continually having to explain it to a new person,” said Tsevdos.
The consumer protection program offers quarterly courses on retail food regulations, with the first class attracting 75 participants. The location of these courses rotates through Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and Rifle. Classes are available in English and Spanish. “Cooking for your family is not the same as cooking for several hundred people a day,” noted Tsevdos. “These courses are designed to teach laws and best practices to keep everyone safe. So far, it seems like we are fulfilling a need, and that is gratifying to our new staff!”
More information on the Consumer Protection program for Garfield County is online at garfield-county.com/environmental-health/food-safety, and upcoming courses will be posted online at garfield-county.com.
Garfield County hosts two free Spanish-language food safety classes July 11; one from 9-11:30 and one from 1-3:30 pm at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle. Attendees who are cooks, prep-cooks, servers, bussers, managers and supervisors will learn safe food handling procedures using Colorado Retail Food Establishment rules and regulations. Instruction in Spanish will center on basic food safety, personal hygiene, cross-contamination and allergens, time and temperature and cleaning and sanitation. Registration is underway, and space is limited. Call 970-625-5200, ext. 8128 to register.Food safety