Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Challenge of Food Safety Inspection
It turns out food safety violations are pretty common.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTVA-CBS 11 News) It's a problem most people don't expect to encounter when they go to eat or buy food and it turns out that food safety violations are pretty common.
And with a shortage of food safety inspectors, enforcement and education are harder to do, the question is how can we be sure the food we put in our mouths is being handled properly?
Popular spots like New Sagaya are joining the club of establishments with violations and the job for the few food inspectors is helping businesses and customers do their homework on food safety.
"Our standard is if we wouldn't be comfortable eating there then we shouldn't expect the place to be open and serving the public," said Tony Barrett, the city's food safety & sanitation program manager.
It doesn't matter where you eat or buy food here in Anchorage because for the city's food inspectors the focus is on making sure places we eat don't have any critical violations.
"The things that have been known over time to be involved in causing food-borne illness," said Barrett.
That means things like monitoring sick workers, hand washing, and temperature control are the priority, while insects and rodents are not.
There was a non-critical violation of cockroaches recently at the midtown New Sagaya.
"It's not uncommon things, like cockroaches. We deal with a lot of bedbugs, not necessarily food establishments but we are getting a lot of calls on those," said Barrett. "They come into the area with people, things can come into the area with pets, it comes in with produce."
New Sagaya issued a statement acknowledging the problem: "The insects were detected in the Asian deli in which we took immediate action to correct the issue. The health department had another inspection and no insects were detected. There will be a follow-up inspection and we expect the same results."
A problem of violations that both city and state officials say you can find in other restaurants, cafes, cafeterias, and stores around town.
"There are places that we inspect where we find no violations, that's not rare by any means. A lot of places have no violations but either is unusual in a large place to find a number of violations," said Barrett.
So what do food safety inspectors keep an eye on?
"Is it cooked appropriately, is it held appropriately," said Mike Gentry, an environmental officer for the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. "Probably 20 percent of the food that comes in the back door of any restaurant is contaminated with one or more pathogens." <p>
"If your place is full of holes, then there is a place for insects and rodents to hide. If the doors don't shut tightly every spring you're going to get mice and voles in the facility," he continued.
And with cuts in budgets leaving only a few inspectors on hand, it's forcing staff to prioritize the risk and the population being served.
"The Pioneer's Home would be a higher risk than Burger King," said Gentry.
"That is a problem. We are not in there as frequently as we like, so and it's harder to follow up when you have complaint or problem," said Barrett.
Which is why officials say we can help out by being proactive in reporting what we see. So the food we eat won't make us sick.
"If you see people handling food with their bare hands or coughing and sneezing and handling food without washing their hands, point that out to them and call them on it," said Barrett.
Officials say food safety is an issue that any establishment has to work on every day.
For example with 25 percent of people holding a pathogen or food-borne microbe in our nose, the possibility of things spreading is real which is why the push is on for good hand washing and the required food worker cards in businesses.
Also both the city and state have updated inspection reports online for review.