Food Safety When Eating Out

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by Kay Morton

Eating out is fun and having meals away from home has become a national pastime. The National Restaurant Association reports 4.1 meals are eaten away from home each week and the average family spends over $2,500 a year on eating out. Food safety should be foremost in your mind, whether you are eating out, having food delivered in, or preparing it yourself. The CDC estimates foodborne illnesses affects 48 million people annually in the United States, causing an estimated 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. A food service establishment linked to a foodborne illness outbreak can expect a thirty-five percent drop in business and a year of hard work to rebound if they don’t go out of business.

To ensure the public is consuming safe food, N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health recently adopted the FDA Food Code and on September 1st, 2012 new food protections guidelines went in to effect statewide. During their inspections of restaurants, food stands and food trucks our Environmental Health Specialist, or Registered Sanitarians, will work with retail food service providers to ensure the food we eat from their establishment is safe. The new rules focus on eliminating the risk factors that cause food-borne illness.

While the public may see few of the changes that will take place, the employees of your favorite restaurant will be implementing the following changes under the updated North Carolina Food Code:

  • Food establishments will be required to refrain from handling exposed, ready-to-eat foods with bare hands. You will see more gloves being worn when preparing and serving ready to eat foods.
  • Each food establishment will be required to develop and adhere to an Employee Health Policy to prevent and control the transmission of illnesses. Employees are encouraged to report any health problems before coming to work and the manager may need to restrict them from working around food or exclude them from the operation.
  • During the hours of operation, all restaurants must have a certified food protection manager who has passed an American National Standards Institute-accredited exam. This requirement will be phased in and become effective Jan. 1, 2014. The ServSafe class we have been teaching through Cooperative Extension and Environmental Health for over 15 years meets this requirement. Look for the ServSafe certificate in your favorite restaurant.
  • Food establishments will be required to decrease the temperature of refrigerated foods and must date-mark opened, ready-to-eat foods. If it is suppose to be cold it must be 40 degrees or lower.
  • The restaurant rating system has also changed under the new food code. You will no longer see scores of 101 and 102. These extra bonus points will no longer be earned for completing voluntary food safety training. Under the new code, food safety training and receiving certification will be required.
  • The new code now applies to local food trucks and pushcarts.
  • All food service vendors inspected by the Health Department will be required to post their sanitation-rating card in a visible place for patrons to see.

Recently 29 Lee County Schools’ cafeteria managers, assistant managers and several Child Nutrition assistants received their ServSafe certification. I am proud to say that ALL Lee County schools now have a certified food safety manager on site. In addition to this group we had over 50 restaurant personnel completing the training this year.

While the new food code represents the most comprehensive changes in North Carolina’s food protection standards in more than 30 years, Cooperative Extension and Lee County Environmental Health are committed to working together to provide food service operations with reliable food safety training as they implement these changes. Restaurant owners know that just one foodborne illness outbreak can close their operation forever. Most importantly they know that safe food is good for business and are working to assure that you are being served healthy and safe food in a healthy and safe manner.

Susan C. Condlin, CFCS is the County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

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