By Andrew Linton, CPM, RS, Division Manager, Environmental Health Division, Maricopa County Environmental Services Department
Editor’s Note: September is National Food Safety Month. Throughout the month, NACCHO is featuring local health departments’ food safety efforts, starting with Maricopa County.
The Maricopa County Environmental Services Department (MCESD) is the proud recipient of the 2018 Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award for Excellence in Food Protection. MCESD emphasizes communication as the key to creating world-class service together with industry, stakeholders, the citizens of Maricopa County, and other regulatory agencies.
The department holds regular stakeholder meetings to openly discuss any new regulations and policies, whether they arise in county, state, or federal agencies. Stakeholders are also encouraged to attend quarterly standards committee meetings, where interpretations of the food code are discussed. These meetings provide a consistent message and transparency with stakeholders.
Communication with Food Service Operators
MCESD strongly promotes the Active Managerial Control (AMC) of foodborne illness risk factors. Although many food service operators had a good understanding of food safety principles, MCESD recognized that they did not know how to incorporate that knowledge into the day-to-day operations of the workplace. MCESD developed an AMC training course to help food service managers bridge that gap. By establishing a practical dialogue with the operators, the AMC course has become an important resource to help food establishments lower the number of priority violations in subsequent inspections, and it also has reduced food establishment enforcement actions taken by the MCESD by 41%.
Another way MCESD has promoted AMC is through the Cutting Edge program. To enroll in the program, food establishments develop their own policies, food service worker training, and verification procedures. MCESD assists these establishments by providing resources on the department website for developing and implementing these systems. Analysis has shown establishments in the Cutting Edge program have fewer priority violations on inspections. Interacting with food establishments via the AMC training courses and the Cutting Edge program has resulted in a collaborative effort to reduce enforcement action and violations on inspection reports and help businesses attain control over foodborne illness risk factors.
MCESD is also assisting food establishments in Maricopa County by developing an AMC toolbox with videos and guidance documents available on the department website. The toolbox was developed through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food establishment operators are encouraged to refer to the AMC toolbox, and MCESD will be providing direct links on inspection reports to the corresponding resources available online.
Communication with Partners
MCESD fosters open exchange and communication internally within the department and externally with other agencies and partners.
Open communication with FDA has helped MCESD achieve department food safety goals. The department is participating in the FDA Retail Program Standards and actively working with FDA to comply with four remaining standards. MCESD is also working with other Arizona counties to implement and comply with the FDA standards, as well as partnering with Southern Nevada Health District and San Bernardino County to improve compliance.
MCESD also partners with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), formalizing support for epidemiological laboratory analysis and collaborating on procedures to address recalls associated with foodborne illness outbreaks. When new regulations were put on hold at the state level, MCESD secured permission from ADHS to adopt first the 2009 FDA Food Code and then the 2013 FDA Food Code. MCESD participates in workgroups, including the Arizona Conference for Food Protection, and has provided input into the drafting of new state legislation regarding home-baked confectionary goods and mobile food establishments.
Internally, the environmental health program has worked with the enforcement program to reduce the number of permit revocations by offering key personnel of establishments an opportunity to attend AMC classes instead. The department has dedicated training staff to prepare new staff to take the Arizona Sanitarian Registration Examination and provides three trainings for staff each year. The training officers are standardized in risk-based inspection methodology by the FDA, and in turn, they standardize field supervisors, who then standardize their staff.
One of the most important areas of collaboration is between field staff and the operators they come into contact with on a daily basis. The environmental health field staff actively communicate the importance of AMC during each inspection, and they make sure their customers are aware of the resources available to them. Field staff are also instrumental in encouraging operators to take advantage of the Cutting Edge Program to enhance the concept of AMC.
The 2018 Samuel J. Crumbine Consumer Protection Award for Excellence in Food Protection has truly been a collaborative effort fostered by effective communication between MCESD, ADHS, FDA, and stakeholders.