By Johnmark Wiley
As someone who has worked in the food industry for the better part of his adult life, I – like a lot of people – think of the Health Department as the bad guys. You know, big bad government coming in and pushing its weight around. But, really, the Health Department is there to protect the citizens of Pueblo.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1,809 people die each year from pathogens transmitted via food. And, in any given year one in four people will get sick from something that they ate. So the good folks at the Health Department are really fighting an uphill battle and using whatever tools they can in the fight to protect the people of Pueblo. One of those tools is a new website. I sat down with Vicki Carlton, Program Manager at Pueblo City-County Health Department, and had a chat about this new web site.
PULP: What should I look for when navigating the website?
Vicki Carlton: The website is designed to provide the public with easy access to restaurant inspections.
PULP: Can you explain the difference between a critical and a non-critical violation?
V.C.: “Critical violation” means a violation of the Colorado Retail Food Regulations that, if in noncompliance, is more likely than other violations to contribute to food contamination, illness or an environmental health hazard. Examples of critical violations are refrigeration temperature above 41 degrees, hot holding food temperatures below 135 degrees, food from an unapproved source, cross contamination (chicken dripping on lemons), rodent droppings, bare hand contact with ready to eat food, etc.
A non-critical violation means a violation of the regulations that usually relates to general sanitation, operational controls, sanitation standard, operating procedures, facilities or structures, equipment design or general maintenance. Examples are dirty floors, walls and ceilings. Most facilities will have some violations on the day of the unannounced inspection and most facilities correct those during the inspection or by the follow-up inspection.
Non-critical violations such as unclean floors do not require a follow-up inspection. Critical violations that are not corrected during the inspection are then given a follow-up inspection and approximately 90% of the time the violation is corrected. It is important to recognize that these violations have been corrected.
PULP: Can I make a complaint about a restaurant on this website?
V.C.: This is not on option at this time. Complaints about restaurants or the website can be left on voice mail at 583-4323.
PULP: What is the worst thing that inspectors have found?
V.C.: I have worked at the Health Department for 18 years and during that time I have seen many items in food. From band-aids, fake fingernails, a mouse, rivets, gasoline and some intentional sabotage of food. But, the job of the inspector is to track the source, educate the facility and help prevent the incident from occurring again.
PULP: Other than giving fines and informing the public, what other measures are at the Pueblo City-County Health Department’s disposal? Can they shut down a restaurant if it poses a serious risk to public health?
V.C.: If an imminent health hazard exists, the Health Department has the authority to immediately close an establishment. Some examples of imminent health hazards are: complete lack of refrigeration, sewage back-up, no hot water, and rodent or insect infestations. Last year the Health Department closed six facilities. Most were able to correct the problem and, once they were re-inspected, allowed to re-open.
PULP: Can a business owner submit a rebuttal if they feel the information on the website is inaccurate or if the violation has been remedied?
V.C.: The inspection report is reviewed with the restaurant owner or the person in charge. The inspection report is signed by the restaurant owner or person in charge and the Environmental Health Inspector. A copy of the report is left with the restaurant operator. The information on the website is taken from the inspection report that is signed by both parties. Violations corrected during the inspection are marked as corrected on site. […] A restaurant owner can request a variance on complying with a regulation and this must be submitted in writing with supporting documentation, and the variance request is reviewed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. An owner can also submit in writing a request for an administrative hearing that must be filed with the Pueblo City-County Health Department within five days following the date of inspection.
So the, next time you are craving hot wings, an Italian sausage sandwich or some sushi, consider looking at the Health Department’s new website to see what your safest option might be.