Stricter food rules in place to protect diners

New safety regulations for business a major revamp since ’70s

tgoldsmith@newsobserver.comSeptember 3, 2012 

  • Keep it clean North Carolina food establishments must follow the new food-safety guidelines. The rules, in effect Sept. 1, prohibit: • Keeping hot food below 135 degrees Fahrenheit or cold foods above 41 degrees, a number that will gradually decrease over several years; • Cooking foods to inadequate doneness; • Using contaminated cooking utensils and containers; • Allowing employees to work while sick; • Using food from unapproved sources. See bit.ly/OhAb7k.

— As of Saturday, hot foods have to stay hotter and cold foods colder to meet new state food-safety regulations for commercial food preparation.

For Eugene Gomes, owner of Kadhai the Indian Wok in Glenwood Avenue’s Pleasant Valley center, that means nobody leaves the well-reviewed restaurant until everything is put away and the kitchen is sanitized, every night. A veteran chef who’s cooked in 27 countries, Gomes now runs his own shop and is joining thousands of other food-service workers in enforcing the new federal standards passed into state law by the General Assembly last year.

The new standards fit right in with Gomes’ conviction that the diner has to feel welcomed and assured from the minute he or she sits down.

“We make sure they get a nice, clean service,” he said. “We give them a warm plate.”

As with most higher standards, there’s a cost to the new guidelines. Many of the guidelines are just stricter versions of precautions that food service places already follow. For instance, Gomes pays a company $300 for a thorough cleaning of Kadhai’s ventilation hood every three months, instead of every four or five months. Overall, the regulations will cost a few thousand dollars a year, he estimates.

“I have to buy some more soap for the big pots and pans,” he said.

Food-safety regulators from the federal to the county level say the new practices are based in science and sound practice and represent the most comprehensive revamp of such laws since the 1970s. Under one provision, every establishment must have a trained, designated supervisor of food-safety practices.

“Our inspectors have spent the last year learning the new rules and how to administer them,” Gayle Harris, public health director for Durham County, said in a statement. “We have also worked very closely with our local food provider community to help them make the transition to the new system.”

When the regulations went before public hearings last spring, representatives of the North Carolina Restaurant Association said the trade group supported the changes and had been “at the table” as they were developed.

At Kadhai and other restaurants, chefs are keeping separate ingredients in separate bowls and thoroughly cleaning knives between use on, say, chicken and vegetables. Chefs must wear gloves when handling food. Raw foods are kept on different shelves from cooked items. And there’s the night-ending ritual of a thorough cleansing with each closing.

“Everybody stays until cleaning is done,” Gomes said.

Open to changes

The legislature appears to have left open a back door to rid industry of any regulation that state officials feel can be changed without harm. On June 2, an environmental legislation bill received a new section, with no sponsor listed, that at once adopted the federal guidelines and gave the state power to grant variances to them. The original bill was filed in February.

According to the added section, the state Department of Health and Human Services can make changes to the regulations if it “determines that the issuance of the variance will not result in a health hazard or nuisance condition.”

Goldsmith: 919-829-8929

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