100

Food safety and sanitation (have I lost you yet?) is, in my opinion, the most important thing restaurants, caterers and food trucks do behind the scenes. Foodborne illness really is a thing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million instances of foodborne illnesses occur annually in the U.S., resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. But as often as we eat out, we pretty rarely get sick. That’s because we have a strong system of inspections, training and education for foodservice professionals.

Many years ago, kids, there was a different emphasis on food safety and training. “Health inspectors” strongly encouraged training and certification, and if someone with that training was present when they inspected, you got two extra points on your score. Many people felt that inspectors were there to “catch you”, which set up an entirely unnecessary adversarial relationship.

Fast forward, and we have the FDA Food Code and “health inspectors” are called Environmental Health Specialists, and food safety training is not optional, and you don’t get extra points. And they truly are specialists. Every single inspector I ever met (and I’ve run kitchens in Wake, Orange, Durham and Chatham Counties) truly wants to help people do the right thing. They know stuff, and are valuable partners in getting it right. It’s pretty simple, really: “The goal of each inspection is to identify and correct any conditions that might lead to foodborne illnesses.” Or as one client says, one of the top three things she knows her business could die from is killing someone.

So the food safety and sanitation work starts when someone is planning a business. That’s when, if you didn’t already know, you learn about foot candles and toxins, can sinks, spore-formers, FRP, campylobacter and grease traps. There’s a big fat book to guide design, installation and construction, and people like me help make sure that new kitchens meet these standards AND work for cooks on the ground. And then you train, train, train, formally and informally, and if you're smart, you learn from every inspection.

You do not just get 100. You work right and live right day in and day out. Because scurrying around when the inspector walks in the back door is not a food safety plan. Not only is that not effective, it is entirely beside the point. It’s actually easier, in the long run, to do the right thing as a matter of procedure, and those specialists, to a man and woman, really do want to help.

So when you see that 100, know that there’s a great deal of dedicated effort on the part of the operation and the health department. And when you see 100, congratulate people, and share pictures here so we can re-post and all celebrate!

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