Partners tackle foodborne illnesses
MSU Extension, Kent County to offer food safety training courses for managers.
Since 2010, Michigan has required at least one manager at a food service establishment to be trained in food safety.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, at least 48 million cases of foodborne illness occur annually.
The FDA updates its food code — guidance for addressing food safety at retail and food service establishments — every four to five years. It then offers the updates for adoption by local and state units that handle food safety compliance.
Kent County Health Department is one such department. It began partnering with the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension approximately five years ago to offer the ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification developed by the National Restaurant Association.
This year, Jane Hart, MSU Extension food safety educator, will offer four 16-hour certification classes in February, May, August and November for those not previously certified.
Eight-hour refresher/recertification classes will be held in March, June, July, September, October and December.
The February courses will be held in two eight-hour blocks Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 at the Kent County MSU Extension, 775 Ball Ave. NE, in Grand Rapids.
Hart said the MSU Extension already offered food safety training before the state passed a law requiring certification. Thereafter, counties began looking to the extension for teaching help.
“We just hooked onto that, and it hasn’t slowed down,” she said. “Working with the health departments, it’s a good opportunity where they don’t have to market the classes or go to them.”
She said her 16-hour courses in Kent County usually draw about 10 participants per section, and the eight-hour trainings draw about 20.
“We do recommend the people who have not taken the class before or who have limited managerial experience take the 16-hour course,” she said.
The 16-hour course is $145 per person plus the cost of the “ServSafe Manager Book with Answer Sheet, Seventh Edition,” which is $72 from the MSU office. The eight-hour course is $75 per person plus the book.
Participants can request the book in Spanish and Mandarin and ask for a translator’s help with test taking.
Students will learn about safe food provision, forms of contamination, safe food handling, the flow of food, food safety management systems, safe facilities and pest management, and cleaning and sanitizing.
Hart said some concepts have been surprising to past participants.
“The forms of contamination are usually the biggest worry — about learning the different microbes that cause foodborne illness and how to tell them apart, and also the internal temperatures on how to cook, cool and eat food,” she said. “There are stringent ways to do it.”
Mary Ruttman is a sanitarian at Kent County Health Department, and she said her department conducts one or two inspections annually of all local food service establishments. The frequency depends on the type of establishment. Ice cream shops and bars without kitchens are audited annually, whereas restaurants are inspected twice per year.
KCHD evaluates establishments using the five risk factors for foodborne illness from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
Purchasing food from unsafe sources
Holding food at incorrect temperatures
Failing to cook food correctly
Using contaminated equipment
Practicing poor personal hygiene
Ruttman said specifics of KCHD inspections change as the FDA adjusts the food code.
“It used to be where cut tomatoes and cut lettuce used to be considered non-potentially hazardous,” she said. “Now, cut lettuce and cut tomatoes are considered potentially hazardous. … They were starting to see more food outbreaks with those types of items.
“People have to change their practices around them now. They have to store it if it is cut lettuce and tomatoes … at 41 degrees (Fahrenheit) or below.”
Hart added one thing that changed in the 2013 food code update — the most recent — was the guidance on wearing gloves.
“If you are doing the same task for over four hours, you do not have to change your gloves if they are not ripped or torn,” she said. “But I’ve rarely seen anyone chopping onions for four hours.”
Ruttman said KCHD does encounter establishments in violation of the requirement to have a certified food protection manager.
“When we do write that violation up, in Kent County, we allow them 90 days to show us proof they have obtained certification,” she said. “If they have not in that timeframe, it goes into enforcement, which is usually in the form of a ticket.”
She said she tells restaurant owners it doesn’t make sense to ignore the rules since the $200 ticket is more expensive than taking the ServSafe course.
Hart said if there are any updates to the food code in 2018, participants will learn about them in addition to the concepts published in the ServSafe book.
“The Seventh Edition goes through the whole flow: purchasing, receiving, thawing, cooking, cooling, reheating, even the service of food, so the people serving know what to watch for,” Hart said. “It also goes into allergens because people need to be allergen trained.”
Ruttman said it’s helpful if all employees, not just the managers, go through training.
“As an inspector, that is how we have to think about food safety — the flow of the food as soon as it enters the building to the end consumer. If it’s taught that way, as Jane does with ServSafe, it helps the people doing the food service to think about it in terms of how an inspector would look at it,” she said.
MSU Extension offers a free online course for nonmanagement food service workers at campus.extension.org.
Those interested can take the test by creating a new account, searching “food safety training for food service workers” and choosing a course. Anyone who passes the test with a score of 75 percent or higher will receive a printable certificate.