California, Florida Growers To Be Inspected
Agriculture departments in California and Florida have started inspecting fresh produce packing plants for food safety violations.
Growers in California, though, are breathing a sigh of relief because the inspections are voluntary. Several bills in the California assembly (SB 200, 201 and 202) designed to make the industry more accountable, are on permanent hold while the state's Leafy Green Marketing Agreement takes root.
In response to the E. coli outbreak caused by contaminated fresh spinach from the Salinas Valley last fall, Western Growers, the agriculture trade association that represents 3,000 growers producing 90% of the fresh produce in California, hammered out a voluntary agreement with the state agriculture department. Produce plants that agree to and pass state inspections get certification.
Florida has taken a slightly different tack, recently going with mandatory inspections for fresh tomato processing and packing plants. The legislature passed a bill that requires portable hand-washing stations at farms and packinghouses, tests of water used to irrigate crops, and routine inspections of tomato producers' facilities. The state is picking up the tab for the new inspections, which are part of a new "fresh from Florida" campaign.
Milwaukee Puts Inspection Results On Web
Add another major city to the growing list of jurisdictions posting restaurant inspections on the Web: Milwaukee. Its inspection results have always been public, but new handheld technology makes it possible to quickly post results to the Web, according to Vivian Chen, health operations director.
Inspections of more than 700 restaurants dating from the first of the year are now available. By the end of the year, the site should have reports on about 1,500 restaurants, an equal number of retails grocers and more than 950 taverns.
To see if your scores are there, go to www.milwaukee.gov/fi.
Bakersfield Restaurants Getting ABC's From County
It's back to school for restaurants in Bakersfield, Calif., and surrounding Kern County. The county health department started giving out letter grades for inspections this month. Inspectors have been informally using the letter grades for the past six months, according to Matt Constantine, head of the county's Environmental Health Department. Now that the system's official, however, the grades get posted in restaurants' front windows.
A blue letter A means the restaurant may have a few minor flaws (a score of 90 or above). A green B (at least 80 points) means the restaurant uses "adequate" food safety procedures and is acceptable. A yellow C means the restaurant is barely cutting the mustard. Anything less than 75 points and the restaurant gets a sign that says CLOSED in red letters.
County supervisors got input from restaurants before writing the ordinance, Constantine said, so the grading system is really theirs. The health department has put together a 52-page book giving you everything you need to know to score A's all the time.
The booklet is available on the Web site at www.co.kern.ca.us/eh.
More Smoking Bans In Effect Or Considered
Add several more locations to your list of places where smoking is out. Bans went into effect on July 1 in New Mexico and Madison County, Ky. Both bans prohibit smoking in restaurants and bars as well as all other public places.
Bans are now under consideration in Alexandria, Va.; Kanawha County, W. Va.; and the state of Michigan.
Alexandria's ordinance was approved in a city council vote last month, but it has to be voted on once more before going into effect next July. The council is hoping the state will enact a statewide ban before then, but say the ordinance will pass if not.
The Kanawha County-Charleston Health Department passed a smoking ban three years ago that exempted restaurants and bars. The health department now wants to finish the job. The new ordinance, if enacted, will take effect next July.
Lawmakers in Michigan held a public hearing on a proposed bill there to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. They didn't vote, but agreed to hear more public debate perhaps this month.