August 5, 2008

Regular Checks Ensure Food is Safe, Equipment Clean Throughout County

By Ann Marie Ames, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.

Aug. 5--After a thorough hand washing, Roger Eychaner fired off the first of many questions in the convenience store inspection.

"How do you heat the soup?" he asked store manager Bonnie McShane.

She promptly responded that her workers heat it in the microwave to 165 degrees before placing it in the warmer.

That was the correct answer.

But Eychaner, a sanitarian with the Rock County Health Department, asked the same question in a variety of ways about all the hot food, just to be sure. Making workers prove they know how to take care of food or clean equipment is a big part of an annual inspection.

At the serving station, the hot food must be at least 135 degrees. On that day, the chicken noodle soup at Kwik Trip, 505 N. Main St., Edgerton, was 143 degrees.


Although state officials are debating fees for inspections of restaurants, campgrounds, convenience stores, tattoo parlors, farms and other businesses, those changes won't affect the way the Rock County does inspections, Eychaner said.

In 2007, the county issued 1,032 licenses, including 913 restaurant and lodging licenses.

Eychaner inspected the Kwik Trip in late July with a Janesville Gazette reporter and photographer in tow.

Outside the store, Eychaner checked that the ice bins were locked, the Dumpsters closed and the space around the store free of trash that could attract rodents or bugs.

Inside, we introduced ourselves to McShane then donned hairnets and washed our hands. That's the first link in the inspection "chain," Eychaner said.

"If you don't have everything together in the chain, you're going to have more chance of food-borne illnesses," he said.

Eychaner watches for many things that consumers also can look for while they're shopping:

n Gas pumps and softener salt--Lots of gas stations have pallets of water-softener salt stacked between the pumps. But they need to be careful, Eychaner said. If the bags are stacked too close to the pumps, people might set gas cans, trash or feet on them. Then people would be taking home contaminated bags.

-- The state requires all refrigerated food be stored below 41 degrees, Eychaner said. That includes food in the kitchen and in the coolers customers can reach. Thermometers are required in every cooler so that it's instantly obvious to anyone who looks if the cooler is not working and customers can avoid food spoiled by exposure to high temperatures.

-- Watch the "safe load" line in open coolers and freezers to also avoid spoiled foods. Some freezers have a line marking how high food can be stacked. If food is stacked too high, it will block the cold-air currents that move through the cooler to keep the food frozen.

-- Food packaged by employees--such as the three-packs of doughnuts sold at Kwik Trip--must be carefully wrapped and labeled so customers can read the ingredients and nutritional information, Eychaner said. Food that's packaged and labeled by the manufacturer is not something he has to worry about.

-- Soda fountains must have buttons, not levers into which customers push their cups. That prevents people from spreading germs by filling a cup, drinking and refilling.

-- Kwik Trip's new milkshake machine requires a special variance from the state because it doesn't have parts that can be removed for easy cleaning. That means inspectors grill employees at every Kwik Trip to make sure they know how to sanitize the machine daily. That ensures no cleaning products stay inside the machine and get mixed in with milkshakes.

-- In the kitchen, Eychaner looked for overall cleanliness and made sure food was 6 inches off the floor. He checked in the coolers to make sure food that had been opened was labeled with a date. Things such as mayonnaise and ranch dressing are good for a week after they're opened, he said. The dates remind employees to throw perishable condiments out so customers aren't exposed to spoiled ones.

-- In the cooler where customers grab sodas and groceries, Eychaner noted the eggs and bacon were stored correctly below the other items. That prevents salmonella from falling onto other foods, he said.


Roger Eychaner, a 20-year veteran inspector with the Rock County Health Department, offered consumers tips for buying safe food:

-- Make sure the store or restaurant is clean and well run. That shows that the owners and managers care, he said.

-- Make sure that cold food is really cold, and make sure hot food is really hot.

-- Watch to see that employees wash their hands. Watch to see if they fiddle with their face or hair while they work.

-- Watch to see that employees are healthy, not sneezing or coughing.

-- Don't hesitate to report to the manager something you think is unhealthy.


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Janesville Gazette, Wis.

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