Boston inspector resigns in food-safety scandal

Keith Eddings of the Eagle-Tribune, reports the city code inspector accused of selling bogus food safety certificates to employees at restaurants and bodegas resigned on Monday, two weeks after Mayor Daniel Rivera put him on paid leave as the first of the phony certificates was found at Noelia Market on East Haverhill Street.

sscertificateAlso this week, the National Restaurant Association, whose ServSafe program trains and tests millions of employees in food safety nationwide, told the city it will invalidate all 497 certificates that the inspector, Jorge De Jesus, issued in Lawrence over the last five years.

De Jesus issued the licenses on behalf of the Restaurant Association, not the city, but the city requires them from merchants seeking the common victualler license needed to sell food. That made it a conflict of interest for De Jesus to issue even valid certificates in Lawrence, Assistant City Attorney Brian Corrigan said.

City Inspectional Services Director Pat Ruiz said he so far has found 25 ServSafe certificates that he believes De Jesus sold to merchants without putting them through the course and exam required for the certificates, but he said determining the validity of the certificates has been time-consuming and inconclusive. He said a better option is to invalidate all 497 certificates De Jesus issued and require the employees holding them to take the course and pass the test.

Ruiz said the Restaurant Association told him Tuesday that it is notifying the 497 certificate holders this week that their certificates are being revoked, and will offer them the food safety course without charge over the next few weeks. The association could not be reached late Tuesday, but a spokeswoman said last week that it has suspended De Jesus from the ServSafe program pending its own investigation and is taking the issue “very seriously.”

Rivera said the merchants who bought a ServSafe certificate from De Jesus without taking the required course and passing an exam are victims of De Jesus’ scam and would not be punished.

“We’re focusing on the bad actor, not the victims of this,” Rivera said.

De Jesus was a teacher and proctor in the ServSafe program and so had access to the certificates. He was charging merchants as much as $450 for a bogus certificate, Corrigan said. The course lasts just a few hours and typically costs less than $100. 

The ServSafe types at the National Restaurant Association, who apparently don’t like to post on blogs like,  sent me a note saying:

“DeJesus had an independent business and one of his activities was providing food safety classes.  He used some of our ServSafe materials and signed an agreement indicating that he would use them in a responsible and ethical manner. Once we found he was not in compliance with that agreement, he was no longer authorized to use our materials. He was never hired or paid by the Association and was not our employee.”

Maybe ServSafe sucks? University of Georgia food services takes precautions after receiving poor health scores during spring semester

After receiving two low scores for dining hall health inspections last spring, University of Georgia Food Services is taking extra health and safety precautions to begin the new school year.“We take food safety very seriously in the department,” said Bryan Varin, associate director of meal plan operations at UGA. “It’s something we focus a lot of time and energy on.”

All employees are required to complete a food safety course called ServSafe provided by the National Restaurant Association, Varin said.

“We go through intensive training with our managers, full-timers and student employees as well,” he said. “We’re constantly monitoring our practices, making improvements where we see that they need to be, reinforcing policies that we currently have that work. So it’s very important to us to stay on top of this and to constantly monitor and train and follow-through with employees and ourselves to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

ServSafe certifies 5 million; no evidence it works

About 10 years ago, eldest daughter Madelynn got a job at a local supermarket.

I asked her if she got any food safety training.

“Yeah, we watched a video for 20 minutes, but we all forget that.”

If the daughter of a food safety nerd had such contempt for food safety training, I thought, maybe we should look at what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve reviewed various training packages over the years, and have a paper about a specific training approach coming out, but haven’t done the kind of observational research I’d like to. No one has.

But that doesn’t stop groups from trumpeting the glories of training.

The U.S. National Restaurant Association has offered the food safety training program, ServSafe, for almost 40 years and has now certified 5 million people.

I say some training is better than none, if only for introducing awareness that food safety is an issue. To coach a travel team in little girls’ ice hockey requires 32 or so hours of training; most people serve food with none.

But the more important question is what training or information works and what doesn’t. And collecting meaningful evidence to verify claims.