Food-safety bill introduced

Annapolis official calls for program to ensure sanitary procedures in restaurants

June 14, 2006|By NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON | NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON,SUN REPORTER

Concerned that food-service workers are not following uniform and sanitary procedures, an Annapolis city council member is proposing a city program for facility managers - a requirement that, if approved, would give Annapolis the strictest restaurant regulations in the county.

The bill, proposed by Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, a Ward 3 Democrat, would establish a test covering proper sanitary procedures for food preparation, storage, and handling. The Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs also would maintain a registry of certified managers.

"We really need restaurants to be aware of the importance of training," said Hoyle, who has received dozens of calls from constituents complaining about improper food handling. "Certainly not everyone is going to be certified, but we want to make sure that there is one person on board that is trained."

But Melvin Thompson, the vice president for government relations for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, whose organization has not taken a position on the bill, suggested that restaurants aren't the problem.

In 1997, one woman died and about 700 people fell ill after a ham and turkey dinner at a church-sponsored event in Southern Maryland. Baltimore County required in 2004 that churches and other nonprofit groups that charge the public for food obtain an annual food service facility permit.

"In the past, we've supported statewide legislation on these measures that covered restaurants and nonprofits," Thompson said. "Food safety is food safety, and many sanitation issues that we've had are the result of nonprofit events."

Hoyle's bill, introduced Monday, would require that, after July 1, 2007, a certified food-service manager be available for consultation during business hours at each of the approximately 200 restaurants in Annapolis. After July 1, 2009, food-service managers would have to be on site during business hours.

Similar food certification programs have been adopted in Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties. But in Anne Arundel County, restaurants are allowed to decide how much training is necessary to be employed as a food-service worker.

Three times a year, Anne Arundel's Health Department conducts inspections at full-service restaurants, conducting more than 4,100 inspections each year.

From June 1, 2005, to May of this year, 94 restaurants with Annapolis ZIP codes were cited for health violations. Four restaurants were closed.

Fran Phillips, Anne Arundel County's health officer, said that the number of investigations prompted by food-borne illnesses has declined and that there is good compliance during inspections. But Hoyle's bill would mean that restaurants would have someone to consult every day - not just when the inspector is there.

"This is a progressive public health measure that would allow consumers an additional level of confidence when dining out," said Phillips. "We hope that it will be adopted in the city and then subsequently adopted countywide."

Hoyle said the training in food handling is especially important because many food workers are immigrants, and cultural and language barriers often complicate compliance with food-handling regulations.

In January, the county Health Department began providing on-site training in Spanish to food-service workers and translating educational brochures.

Hoyle's legislation was referred to the Housing and Human Welfare Committee, which she heads. Julie M. Stankivic, an independent who represents Ward 6, and Samuel E. Shropshire, a Ward 7 Democrat, also sit on the three-member committee.

In other business, the city council passed a resolution in support of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program at Annapolis Middle School. Funding for the program was removed from the school budget by the county executive last month.

The school board will vote on its budget June 21.

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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