Environmental health specialists: the salt of the earth

There are some really good people in state and local health departments throughout the world.

Environmental heath specialists, public health inspectors, hygiene officers – whatever they might be called – are some of the most fun food safety nerds to hang out with; there’s not another group of folks I interact with who are consistently as passionate about public health as they are.Unknown

As Keith and Mick sing, they are the salt of the earth.

They impact food safety everyday.

Tragic events in San Bernardino earlier this week affected many individuals and families; including the public health family.


Environmental health specialists: the salt of the earth

There are some good folks in state and local health departments throughout the world. Environmental heath specialists, public health inspectors, hygiene officers – whatever they might be called – are some of the most fun food safety nerds to hang out with. They’ve got a lot of street credibility, seeing more kitchens and food safety in action in a week than some researchers see in a career.

Delmarva now (of the Salmonella-famed Delmarva Peninsula) profiles how restaurant inspections have changed from visits focusing on broken tiles to teaching events and coaching visits. girl-food-temp

In Pocomoke City, at the Riverside Grill, Corey Reeves said her family-run restaurant welcomes visits from the health inspector, because they always teach her something. The restaurant, which opened in 2012, is owned by her parents, Mark and Leslie Reeves.

“Initially, you’re always nervous,” she said of a health inspection, “not because you’re doing anything wrong, but because the rules change constantly, as they should. The regulations change, the kind of bacteria they may be looking for each season. So that’s something new to learn about. It’s very informative.”

Gary Weber has owned Blue Dog restaurant in downtown Snow Hill for about five years.

“If they make their case and want something corrected, if there’s a need, then we correct it. Then they come back and follow up on it. They’re always very polite and very respectful of our business and our staff,” Weber said.

“But it keeps you on your toes,” he said, “and in the restaurants I’ve worked in, there’s a sense of pride if you can get 100 percent. Everybody strives for that. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t feel good about our health inspectors.”

Stu White has been with the health department for 18 years.

Today, inspectors are there not just to evaluate a facility, but to educate restaurant managers and staff. 

“If we ask that something be corrected, if there’s somebody who disagrees with what we’re talking about, then at that point, education thing comes in,” White said. “This is why we’re asking you to do it — not just because I want you to do it. There’s a specific reason. What you’re doing has the potential to make somebody sick.”

White said food safety regulations have evolved over time, under the leadership of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“Years ago, we would go in and look more at the physical facility — was the place clean? Are the walls smooth and easily cleanable?” he said. “We didn’t pay as much attention to food safety or food handling at the time.”

Environmental health driven by HR, good people leaving

Scotland has the highest rate of E coli O157 infection in the world and experts are struggling to maintain the fight against the infection.

Prof Hugh Pennington, who has chaired two public inquiries into major outbreaks of E. coli O157, said he was concerned about the number of experienced personnel being lost due to budget cuts, adding,

"Worryingly environmental health now seems to be being driven by HR departments."

Rod House, president of the Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland, said many senior officers were taking early retirement as councils seek to reduce their wage bills, yet fewer trainees are being appointed.