NEHA Is Searching for Food Safety Heroes!

During National Food Safety Education Month, the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) is paying tribute to those in the food industry who have been on the front lines during this time of COVID-19 pandemic response.  With that in mind, they have a Food Safety Heroes campaign going on throughout the month of September recognizing those in the food safety workforce that have excelled in their duties during this time.  If you know of such a person, please nominate him/her as a Food Safety Hero and check out NEHA’s Food Safety Heroes blog as individuals are highlighted.

Tools Now Available to Promote Food Safety Education Month!

The month of September is recognized nationally as Food Safety Education Month.  Although COVID-19 is definitely in the spotlight right now, let’s not let our guard down in regard to Food Safety because the CDC still states that an estimated 48 million Americans get sick and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food.       

The Partnership for Food Safety Education [which is comprised of the CDC, FDA, and USDA along with other contributing partners and special project supporters] has developed The Consumer Food Safety Educator EVALUATION TOOLBOX & GUIDE that provides several resources for Food Safety training and emphasis that can not only be used during this month but throughout the year.  The kit includes videos, posters and more.  Register to gain access to a wealth of resources for FREE. 

New State Law Affects Nonprofit Food Service Events

On August 5th, 2020, Governor Kemp signed the “Sandwich Bill” into law.  This allows nonprofit organizations to provide meals free of charge for up to 12 weeks between May 15 and August 15–along with four additional weeks during the calendar year—without having to have a Food Service permit from the local health authority.  This allows for the providing of meals during the times schools are out for the holidays and special occasions; however, those receiving funding from the United States Department of Agriculture are not included in this permit exemption.   Home-preparation of food is not allowed.

Article 14, which governs nonprofit sponsored events, was also further updated to better reflect current food safety guidance.  It also provides for the issuance of permits by the municipalities and county governments for nonprofit sponsored events; or any outdoor recreational activity sponsored by the state, county, municipality or related entity; or private school function; or indoor/outdoor public school function (except for public school cafeterias) operating no more than 120 hours.  The local health departments may be requested by the local governments to provide inspectionsnot permits—at such eventsAn inspection fee may be assessed by the local health department of jurisdiction for such requested inspections.  For example, Cobb & Douglas Public Health would assess an inspection fee for each vendor if such events are held in Cobb or Douglas counties.    Those temporary food service events operating for more than 120 hours but less than 14 days will be under the permitting authority of the local health department.

The Georgia Department of Public Health has prepared a Frequently Asked Questions About Nonprofit Food Service Events document to help answer questions you may have concerning this new law.  Our Food Service Regulations are being updated to include the change in determination of exemptions and definitions of a food service establishment.  Notification of the completion of the update will be provided in the near future.

Reflective Guidance for the Latest Executive Order

The Georgia Department of Public Health has updated its COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR RESTAURANTS AND ESTABLISHMENTS THAT MEET THE DEFINITION OF A “BAR” in response to Governor Kemp’s most recent Executive Order pertaining to COVID-19.  The requirements of the previous Executive Order are virtually the same in regard to food service establishments.  That includes the requirements for social distancing and the wearing of facial coverings by staff when in contact with customers.   Be sure to provide 6 feet of separation between table seatings or provide a form of physical barrier to separate seating that is within 6 feet of other seating.   Also, make sure hand sanitizer is provided for patrons and workers.   These areas are worth emphasizing right now because they are the most common source of complaints regarding non-compliance with Executive Order requirements. 

Shout-outs to each of you that are doing your part.  With a united effort to protect our personal health as well as that of our neighbor, we will achieve victory over COVID-19.  

In-Person ServSafe Class Offered in Douglas County

An in-person ServSafe Food Safety Managers Course will be hosted by Cobb & Douglas Public Health at the Douglas County Courthouse (8700 Hospital Drive, Douglasville, GA 30134) on August 25-26, 2020.  Attendees will be able to socially distance while receiving instruction to prepare for the ServSafe Food Safety Managers exam which will be administered at the end of the 2nd day of class.  If you need to re-certify, retest or take the course for the first time, please see the ServSafe Registration Form for more information.

Feel free to share this information with anyone that may be interested in taking the course.

CDC Releases Updated Return to Work Guidance for COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its COVID-19 Isolation/Quarantine Guidance which covers when to isolate or quarantine and when it is okay to return to work and be around others.  This update is timely because public health is responding to a number of reports of diagnosed workers in all kinds of businesses, including several food service facilities.  As a reminder, the CDC still states that the best protection against coronavirus, at this time, is the proper wearing of face coverings as shown above by one of our local restaurants.

The modified return to work guidance is a result of the analysis of the many cases of COVID-19 that have occurred, and it provides clear direction when deciding when to return to work based on whether you were diagnosed with symptoms or without symptoms.  The site also contains access to short videos (available in English, Spanish, and ASL) that help to explain or emphasize common terms–such as the difference between isolation and quarantine— along with procedures related to COVID-19—such as how to properly wear a mask, when to clean and disinfect high contact surfaces, and specific guidance for restaurants and bars.  

Thanks for staying alert and preventing the spread of COVID-19!

COVID-19 Disinfectants for Contact Surfaces

By Andrea Moore, EHS 2

As food service establishments are reopening their dining areas to patrons, there have been questions as to what kind of disinfectants can be used for tables, countertops, and other commonly touched areas in a restaurant. Many restaurant owners and managers have expressed concerns about mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 by ensuring the cleaning products that are used in their facility to clean and disinfect common contact surfaces are effective against the virus.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the List N:  Disinfectants for Use Against COVID-19 that includes EPA registered surface disinfectants including wipes for contact surfaces only. Disinfectants kill germs on surfaces which can further lower the risk of spreading infections. The EPA expects products on this list to kill the virus because they demonstrate effectiveness against a harder to kill virus or another similar human coronavirus.   Hand sanitizers, antiseptic washes and antibacterial soaps are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, won’t be listed on the EPA list. However, if EPA-approved List N disinfectants are not accessible, unscented bleach can be used as an alternative disinfectant. Please keep in mind that you want to always read and follow the directions on the label to ensure safe and effective use.  If wiping food contact surfaces, such as dining room tables, be sure to follow label instructions for use on food contact surfaces. 

The following are instructions for using bleach as an alternative disinfectant:

  • 1/3 cup of unscented bleach added to 1 gallon of water. Do not mix bleach with other cleaning and disinfecting products because this can cause fumes that are very dangerous to breathe in.

Additionally, the links below have been provided for EPA- approved disinfectants and tips for using disinfectants safely and effectively:

EPA-approved disinfectants

Six Steps for Safe & Effective Disinfectant Use (PDF)

As we continue the fight against COVID-19, enhancing sanitation by disinfecting common surfaces regularly will help to prevent the spread of the virus. For example: Disinfect tables between diners, clean and sanitize table condiments, digital ordering devices, check presenters, self-service areas, tabletops and commonly touched areas, and discard single-use items.

We appreciate your cooperation and diligence to maintain a safe and healthy environment for patrons during these uncertain times. We will get through this! Thank you for all that you do !

You can find additional resources anytime on the CDPH website or foodsafety.gov. As always, don’t hesitate to contact your inspector with any questions or concerns.

FREE COVID-19 testing is available – registration is required www.cdphcovid19testing.org

Heads Up: Imposter Inspectors!

Recently, health departments in different parts of the state, including locally, have been notified of persons coming into—or calling– food service facilities posing as health inspectors.  One report states that the imposter told customers that they needed to wear face coverings or they had to leave.  Some imposters have even demanded money on site.  None of this is protocol for any of our Environmental Health Specialists.  Please train your staff to ask for identification of anyone representing any agency before allowing them into your food service operation.  In addition, we do not levy fines in the field or require the payment of fines before performing your inspections.  If you receive a call from such a person, please try to document the phone number being used and report it to the police department.

To assist you with staff training and preparation in this area, please view our Food Safety Partnership Panel #3 video on Food Defense located on our website and prepare a response plan for your facility using the FDA’s A.L.E.R.T. guidance document at http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodDefense/ToolsEducationalMaterials/ucm353774.htm

Please let us know of any occurrence of inspector impersonation– and use extra caution during these challenging times.

~ Karen Gulley, Food Program Manager

FDA Advises Consumers to Not Use Eskbiochem Hand Sanitizer

https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-advises-consumers-not-use-hand-sanitizer-products-manufactured-eskbiochem

[6/19/2020] FDA advises consumers not to use any hand sanitizer manufactured by Eskbiochem SA de CV in Mexico, due to the potential presence of methanol (wood alcohol), a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin or ingested. FDA has identified the following products manufactured by Eskbiochem:

  • All-Clean Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-002-01)
  • Esk Biochem Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-007-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-008-04)
  • Lavar 70 Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-006-01)
  • The Good Gel Antibacterial Gel Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-010-10)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-005-03)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 75% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-009-01)
  • CleanCare NoGerm Advanced Hand Sanitizer 80% Alcohol (NDC: 74589-003-01)
  • Saniderm Advanced Hand Sanitizer (NDC: 74589-001-01)

FDA tested samples of Lavar Gel and CleanCare No Germ. Lavar Gel contains 81 percent (v/v) methanol and no ethyl alcohol, and CleanCare No Germ contains 28 percent (v/v) methanol. Methanol is not an acceptable ingredient for hand sanitizers and should not be used due to its toxic effects.

Consumers who have been exposed to hand sanitizer containing methanol should seek immediate treatment, which is critical for potential reversal of toxic effects of methanol poisoning. Substantial methanol exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, headache, blurred vision, permanent blindness, seizures, coma, permanent damage to the nervous system or death. Although all persons using these products on their hands are at risk, young children who accidently ingest these products and adolescents and adults who drink these products as an alcohol (ethanol) substitute, are most at risk for methanol poisoning.

On June 17, 2020, FDA contacted Eskbiochem to recommend the company remove its hand sanitizer products from the market due to the risks associated with methanol poisoning. To date, the company has not taken action to remove these potentially dangerous products from the market. Therefore, FDA recommends consumers stop using these hand sanitizers and dispose of them immediately in appropriate hazardous waste containers. Do not flush or pour these products down the drain.

FDA reminds consumers to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after coughing, sneezing, or blowing one’s nose. If soap and water are not readily available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend consumers use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol.

FDA remains vigilant and will continue to take action when quality issues arise with hand sanitizers. Additionally, the agency is concerned with false and misleading claims for hand sanitizers, for example that they can provide prolonged protection such as 24-hours against viruses including COVID-19, since there is no evidence to support these claims.

To date, FDA is not aware of any reports of adverse events associated with these hand sanitizer products. FDA encourages health care professionals, consumers and patients to report adverse events or quality problems experienced with the use of hand sanitizers to FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reportingprogram:

Special Serving Styles

By Idelia Ulmer, EHS4

Georgia’s Rules and Regulations for Food Service 511-6-1 allow for special options for serving food in restaurants.  This post helps to distinguish between some of the special options that are available.

Cafeteria-Style Buffet

All food is displayed, BUT food workers are responsible for serving the customers, handling the utensils, and ensuring proper distancing in lines.  Cafeteria style may be applied to Salad Bars, Dessert Bars, Cold and Hot Food Buffets, etc. provided that:

  • Sneeze guards/shields must be designed or modified to protect all food from customer exposure and direct access. If ends are not closed, shield angles must continue along all exposed sides (3-sides) with a height of at least 18 inches from counter height usually – without openings to prevent customer access.  Exception: Units may be in-line with other equipment to prevent (food) access from unshielded sides.
  • For serving food refills, servers must use new tableware (plates, bowls).

Traditional Buffet-Style

Buffets may be reopened for customer use if hand sanitizer is available at the buffet, sneeze guards are in place, customers socially distance while going down the line, and utensils are changed out regularly.

Hibachi Grill  

At table-side, food service employees grill food for immediate service to the customer. Limit the amount of food stored at hibachi grill to what is needed for service two one sitting of people. Returned and/or remaining ready-to-eat foods must be discarded.

Family-Style

A group of customers are seated at a table for one sitting.  Servers bring ready-to-eat food to the table in large serving dishes. Dishes are passed around for each person to serve their own plate. Remaining or returned food must be discarded. [Family-style self-service may have additional requirements and require health authority’s approval before facilities implement this serving style].

Important Reminders

All food service facilities must comply with Georgia Rules and Regulations Food Service 511-6-1.

Ensure that preventive measures to protect against the exposure and spread of COVID-19 among your patrons and workforce are in place. as required by Governor Kemp’s Executive Order.