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Health officials: Restaurant inspection scores have dropped

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     Restaurant inspection scores have dropped an average of five points, since the Georgia Department of Human Resources changed the inspection guidelines, according to observations by local health officials.
    The state changed the guidelines – including the use of a new inspection form – to focus on activities with a higher risk for causing foodborne illness, such as improper storage, lack of date marking and mishandling cooked food. In addition, they wanted to ensure restaurants keep cold food cold and hot food hot, since bacteria is more likely to grow at moderate temperatures.
    Dwayne Butler is District Environmental Health Specialist and oversees county health inspectors in 14 different counties, including Bulloch. He said the new rules are a result of five years of work by a committee made up of environmental health, food service industry and FDA representatives.
    "About 5 years ago, [state officials] recognized that Georgia needed to update its food code and they wanted to model it after the FDA food code, which is the national standard," said Butler. "The last revision to the food code was in 1986."
    Officials from the Bulloch County Health Department regularly inspect restaurants, schools and anyplace that prepares food for public consumption. Scores from A to C are given and restaurants are required to post their scores and inspection sheets in a prominent place that the public can see. Establishments can request reinspections if they earn a low score. The Herald publishes food service inspection results the first Sunday of each month.
    Butler said new food rules give the food inspectors more opportunities to look at food handling techniques and place emphasis on temperature control of food.  
    "'No bare hand contact' is going to be the biggest obstacle were going to face in educating food handlers," said Butler. "Once food is cooked and ready to be put on the plate or served, servers cannot touch it with their bare hands."
    Wayne Circy is the owner the Ocean Galley seafood restaurant. He said the public is only going to see the lower scores without understanding what's behind them.
    "For example, if the exit light is out and the dumpster lid is open, they might take off eight points which means only one more infraction will give you a "B," said Circy. "There needs to be a food service inspection and a building inspection, not combined. Because you can write a restaurant up for trash not being tagged, one light bulb being out and the door being open, and they might receive a "B" or a "C," when it has nothing to do with actual food preparation."
    Butler said the form was revised to reflect more of the food handling techniques, food storage and holding practices instead of physical facilities.
    "Less emphasis on the physical structure – floor, walls and ceilings – not too many dirty floors have caused food poisoning," said Butler. "An employee not washing their hands or handling the food improperly – this is where food poisoning is spread. Same thing as far as food not being cooked to the proper temperature or not being held in hot holding or cold holding – that's when you've got a chance for bacteria."
    Circy agreed that the new guidelines focus more on preparation and storage, but the scoring system has changed as well.
    "If we're going to put in the paper that a restaurant received a 57 and we're not going to back it up by explaining there is a totally new inspection system in place, I think there's an injustice there," said Circy.
    Circy wanted to make it clear he's not trying to stir up trouble or create a war between restaurant owners and health officials. He thinks the public needs to be informed about the changes, how small mistakes can have detrimental effects on the final score and why inspection scores have dropped recently.
    "I've got a very good working relationship with the people at the health department. They're serving a good purpose by helping us," said Circy. "But the public doesn't know how inspections work. While it's more directed toward [food preparation and storage], the other infractions are still there. But again, if you're not in the business, nobody knows that."
    Another change affecting local establishments is that Georgia is now requiring every restaurant to have a certified food safety manager. For existing restaurants, they have two years to send someone to a class to receive their CFSM. Any new establishment must have one on board within 90 days. Butler said there are three classes to choose from in order to receive the certification.    
    "Most people in our area are taking the Serve Safe Class – sponsored by the National Restaurant Association," said Butler. "Its a two-day food safety class where there's a written exam you have to pass showing that you're competent in food safety terminology."
    More information, as well as a copy of the new inspection form, can be obtained at Georgia Department of Health's Web site at
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