County to adopt new federal rules that strengthen food safety and allow for doggy dining outdoors

June 13, 2012

New federal food rules taking effect this summer are expected to boost food safety and strengthen health inspections. The state of Oregon will adopt the new Food and Drug Administration code July 1.

The FDA rules are based on emerging science and designed to lower risk of foodborne illness, Multnomah County Health officials said Wednesday. The federal code is aimed at reducing the hazards of poor personal hygiene, cross-contamination, improper cooking, reheating, cooling and food from unsafe sources.

Multnomah County conducts about 10,000 health inspections on food operations a year.

And detailing the impact of the upcoming federal changes on those inspections for the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners were Lila Wickham and Jon Kawaguchi from the county’s Health Department; and Judy Craine, who owns Holman’s Bar & Grill in southeast Portland. Craine also serves on the Multnomah County Food Advisory and Oregon Food Advisory committees.

Local business owners welcome several of the changes, Craine said. One new provision allows dogs in designated outdoor seating areas. Previous code prohibited dogs in eating areas. In addition, wild mushrooms will be permitted with identification of the mushroom species and buyer verification.

Other changes aim to reduce the risk of spreading illness to others. Beginning in July, employees who have been vomiting or having diarrhea may not return to work for at least 24 hours. And employees will be required to use tongs, gloves, or another barrier when serving ready-to-eat foods.

Previously, food handlers used a double hand-washing technique, which has been scientifically proven effective. However, Craine notes that regulators feel extra precaution is necessary.

“Since regulators feel the possibility for infection is so great, we figured we should add that extra step,” she said. “Better safe than sorry.”

Bartenders garnishing drinks will be still allowed to use their bare hands.

Finally, the new food code will dramatically change how health inspections are scored to more accurately detect problems that are likely to make patrons sick.

Priority violations will pinpoint problems that have a greater risk of producing foodborne illness such as cooking temperature, while priority “foundation” items address issues with equipment that have risk of causing foodborne illness such as a probe thermometer.

Operations are scored on a 100-point scale with priority violations resulting in the loss of five points and foundation violations the loss of three points. A third category of items that do not pertain to food safety will be noted but will not affect the score.

Kawaguchi told the board under the previous scoring system, an operation could get a score of “95,” even with significant problems. Under the new system, that same situation would net a “75.”

All violations require correction during the inspection, an alternative procedure, or another inspection to approve correction.

The new code has been approved by the Oregon State Food Service Advisory Committee, local health departments and the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The code has been reviewed by the Multnomah County Food Service Advisory Committee, accepted by the Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association and has been the subject of public hearings.

For more information: Multnomah County Health Department