New state food rules in effect for restaurants

Published 9:44pm Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Polk County residents dining out at local restaurants may not notice the changes, but their dining experience my soon be a little safer thanks to changes in North Carolina’s food safety code that went into effect Sept 1.
“Our county health department staff works closely with local eating establishments to promote safe food handling practices,” said James H. Hines Jr., director of the Rutherford Polk McDowell (RPM) District Health Department. “These new rules allow us to keep up with the changes in food preparation techniques, while keeping public health and safety in mind.”
The new food code represents the most comprehensive change in North Carolina’s food protection standards in more than 30 years and establishes rules and provisions to help avoid food-borne illnesses like noroviruses and salmonella.
Under the new rules, employees must avoid handling ready-to-eat food with their bare hands and all restaurants must have a certified food protection manager during hours of operation. Restaurants owners also must establish employee health policies to ensure that an ill employee who has the potential to contaminate food is not involved in the preparation or serving of food.
Restaurant rating systems also will change under the new food code. Although sanitation rating cards showing the grade and score will continue to be posted, restaurants will no longer earn a bonus for completing voluntary food safety training, since training will now be required.
“Our inspectors have spent the last year learning the new rules and how to administer them,” Hines said. “We have also worked with our local food provider community to help them make the transition to the new system.”
Another change people will notice is that local food trucks and pushcarts will also be subject to the new food code rules and will be required to post a sanitation rating card.
Key provisions of the new North Carolina Food Code include the following:
• Each food establishment will be required to demonstrate knowledge of food protection by passing an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited exam.  This requirement will be phased in and become effective Jan. 1, 2014.
• Each food establishment will be required to develop and adhere to an Employee Health Policy to prevent and control the transmission of illness.
• Food establishments will be required to refrain from handling exposed, ready-to-eat foods with bare hands.
• Food establishments will be required to decrease the temperature of refrigerated foods and must date-mark open, ready-to-eat foods.
For additional information, contact Susan Robinson, environmental health program director, at 828-287-6104. Anyone interested in the new code can view it at http://ehs.ncpublichealth.com.rules.htm.
– article submitted by the Rutherford Polk McDowell District Health Department

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