An important public health function is ensuring food safety in restaurants, schools and other licensed food establishments. New Michigan food safety standards, enforced locally by Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, will aid in that effort.
The health department is introducing Michigan's new food code to food facility operators this fall. On Oct. 1, 2012, a modified version of the 2009 FDA Food Code became effective in Michigan. The new law contains significant changes that will improve the safety of the foods produced and served in local food establishments.
Food code improvements, such as a new requirement for the refrigeration of leafy greens, have been put in place to reduce the number of foodborne illnesses caused by pathogens like E. coli and Salmonella. Health Department food facility inspectors review food code changes with facility operators during inspections this fall and winter, and offer certified food manager training courses this winter.
Each licensed food service establishment, with very few exceptions, is required to have a certified food safety manager. The Health Department offers this certification to food service managers who successfully complete the National Environmental Health Association Food Safety Manager's Certification Course and exam. A total of 651 local food facility managers have attended and successfully passed the manager's certification course offered by the health department since 2005.
Michigan's new food law also requires Special Transitory Food Units and mobile food units to be operated by a certified manager. Several courses will be held this winter to allow current managers to renew their certification, which is required every five years, and to provide training for new food establishment managers.
Inspectors also conduct routine inspections of licensed food establishments and may conduct follow-up inspections to verify that violations have been corrected. A link to Western Upper Peninsula Health Department food facility inspection reports can be found on the health department's website at westernuphealth.org.
Recent nationwide illness outbreaks linked to fresh produce such as lettuce and spinach prompted the 2009 FDA Food Code requirement to store cut leafy greens under refrigeration, at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or below at all times. Thorough washing of all produce prior to eating is also necessary to remove pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella. Hands need to be washed with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds prior to handling fresh produce. Produce must be washed under running warm tap water, including produce with skins or rinds that are not eaten. Once the washed produce has been cut it must be refrigerated.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education and its Federal partners - the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture remind people to "Be Food Safe," which includes:
CLEAN - Wash hands, utensils and cutting boards before and after use, especially when contacting raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
SEPARATE - Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked.
COOK - Use a thermometer to check food temperatures; you can't tell food is cooked safely by how it looks. To be safe, cook all raw meats to at least 165 degrees.
CHILL - Chill leftovers and takeout food within 2 hours and keep the refrigerator at 40 degrees or less.
Western U.P. Health Department regulates 425 licensed food establishments in Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, including restaurants, mobile food units, school kitchens, and volunteer organization food establishments. The health department also issued 183 temporary food establishment permits during the past year. The Health Department provides guidance, inspection, and licensure for all temporary food vendors prior to service of food. Additional food safety information can be found at the health department's website and at foodsafety.gov.
Western U.P. District Health Department provides public health services to residents in Houghton, Keweenaw, Baraga, Ontonagon, and Gogebic counties from its offices in Hancock, L'Anse, Ontonagon and Bessemer.
Editor's note: Lynne Madison is the Health Department's environmental health division director.