Health officials hold open house over proposed food code changes
Bartenders in Anchorage are used to preparing garnishes for drinks using their bare hands, but a proposed change to the Muni's food code would no longer allow that.
The proposal would eliminate the exemption for bare hand contact when garnishing beverages in bars and restaurants to prevent contamination from hands.
"Those folks could use tongs, papers, spatulas or gloves," Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Director DeeAnn Fetko said. "They don't necessarily need to wear gloves to provide this."
Fetko and other health officials from the department held an open house Wednesday evening in Eagle River to explain the different proposed food code changes for the Muni.
"We're looking at updating the food code so that we can move forward and be in line with the 2013 FDA model food code as well as come in line with some state codes," Fetko said.
Fetko said some changes are ideas they heard from various industries.
In addition to getting rid of the exemption for bare hand contact when garnishing drinks in bars and restaurants, several other proposed changes include:
- Allowing freshly caught fish, not previously frozen, to be served if cooked to a minimum temperature of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, if a consumer advisory warning is included in the menu.
- Allowing people to donate wild game meat, seafood and plants to non-profits and food banks in the same manner as allowed in the rest of the state and allows some programs to use certain wild games in their facilities.
- Requiring a food establishment permit or license in order to sell cottage food (jams, jellies, baked goods).
- A grease interceptor, if installed, must be maintained at least every 30 days or more often as necessary. The permit holder must also make grease interceptor maintenance records available to an inspector upon request.
David McCarthy, one of the owners of 49th State Brewing Company in Anchorage, says any additional measures to boost public safety is always a great idea.
"You just have to look at the practicality of how to implement that procedure," he said.
He says gloves aren't always safe and may not be practical for bartenders, but says there needs to be set guidelines to guarantee customers will not get sick from cross contamination.
"I would rather see someone washing their hands between the manufacturing, than just taking the gloves they think that are safe and continue from item to item, guest to guest," McCarthy said. "Because the next thing you know, you see them touch their hair or something."
But McCarthy said requiring food workers to use utensils when working with ready-to-eat food is a good step in preventing food contamination.
"I think it's a great idea to have tongs or picks," he said. "This is something that's been in the food service industry, especially the bar industry for years."
He also supports mandating the cleaning of grease interceptors.
"I think that's a good idea in the first place just to keep things clean," he said.
At 49th State, beverage garnishes are placed in trays on top of ice, kept at specific temperatures to help avoid any bacterial growth, McCarthy said. He also explained how it's critical dishes and hands are always washed and sanitized.
"It's not just the final end of the drink," he said. "It's the whole process."
Fetko said they want feedback from the restaurant industry and food vendors on their proposals.
The Muni is holding two more open houses on September 13:
Anchorage DHHS 4th Floor Conference Room
825 L Street
9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The public comment period is open until September 22. Written comments can be sent to Department of Health and Human Services ATTN: Food Code, 825 L Street, Anchorage, AK 99501, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find the document for all proposed food code changes here. Fetko said after the public comment period is closed, the next step is to bring the draft to the Anchorage Assembly.