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March 3, 2020 - 5:14pm

Board of Health expected to adopt rule requiring some food servers to take food safety course

posted by Howard B. Owens in food safety, business, health department, notify.

The county Board of Health may soon adopt a new policy that will require establishments and events offering prepared foods to have at least one supervisor or server on hand who has completed a certified food safety course. The aim is to better protect the public from the transmission of disease during food handling.

The 60- to 90-minute course costs from $10 to $15 and will provide the person taking the course with information on the safe preparation, storage and handling of food.

"The goal, really, is to make sure Genesee County residents are as safe as they can be, so they don't have to worry when they go out and eat in restaurants or establishments that serve food," said Paul Pettit, director of the Health Department. "We want to make sure they're providing the safest meals possible. It's about protection and prevention."

The new food safety requirement will apply both to established restaurants and temporary food stands, such as you find at community events, fundraisers, carnivals and the fair.

Businesses and groups serving food will not be required to ensure every cook and server take the course, only that at least one person working during any period where food is being served to the public, or during preparation, have a certificate of completion for the course. 

While some online courses set an expiration date on the certification, the county's rules will honor any certificate proving a person has taken a course, even if it is printed with an expiration date.

The Board of Health is appointed by the Genesee County Legislature and is the policy-making body for food safety rules in the county. The board has been discussing the proposed rule at recent meetings, Pettit said, and he expects the board to approve the policy change.

Businesses and community organizations will have at least a year to comply.

The policy will apply to any food service that is required to have a Health Department permit to serve food.

The course covers such things as the temperatures necessary for properly storing food, hot or cold, how hot to cook food, especially meats, and properly handling food.

"If they don't cook the chicken until it's falling off the bone, or 165 degrees, which is the correct temperature, we may have a problem," Pettit said.

One of the biggest worries in food safety is the transmission of hepatitis A, which can happen when people serving food handle it with their bare hands (hepatitis A is transmitted from fecal matter). There have been incidents of hepatitis A outbreaks as recently as last year in Erie County. That's why even a community event where pizza is served by untrained volunteers is a concern, Pettit said.

Pettit said the same policy has been in place in Orleans County for 10 years and hasn't proven onerous for businesses nor community groups. It has also been implemented in several other Upstate counties. It's also a requirement of federal food regulations and New York is one of the last states not to adopt those standards in its own statewide regulations. That is something Pettit said is likely to change very soon.

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