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Home > Health Topics > Podcasts > "School Food Safety Inspections"

"School Food Safety Inspections"

April 3, 2008

William Walker, MD
Contra Costa Health Services

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Where ever you live in Contra Costa County, you are bound to see or hear about the broad range of work that our Environmental Health Inspectors do to protect the public - from restaurant inspections to ensuring that water systems and public pools are safe and that sewers are working.

I'm Dr. William Walker, Director of Contra Costa Health Services. I would like to talk to you about our Environmental Health inspectors and a report recently released by the Contra Costa Grand Jury on Safety Inspections in public school lunch programs. The Grand Jury works very hard during their one-year term to examine city and county governments and special districts to ensure their duties are lawfully conducted.

We always welcome the Grand Jury's comments and take their suggestions and findings very seriously.

Their report is about how our Environmental Health inspectors work to help schools comply with federal regulations. As part of the National School Lunch Program, the federal government established regulations effective July 2005 that require schools have their food service facilities inspected twice a year. The law says those inspections should be done by a qualified state or local government agency to identify and correct food safety problems in a timely and consistent manner.

The federal law didn't provide any funding to schools for inspections. The federal law also didn't say that local health departments like ours should be the ones to inspect the schools Our Environmental Health Division charges fees for inspections of food facilities, including restaurants- that's how we pay our staff.

Since we are committed to protecting the health and safety of the public, including school children, our Environmental Health inspectors have attempted to inspect school food service facilities as frequently as our staffing permits. In the 2006-2007 school year, staff inspected 77% of the eligible schools.

In addition to the inspections, from 2005 through 2007, our Environmental Health staff conducted 69 Food Safety Classes at schools free of charge. This important effort to train school cafeteria staff to safely receive, store, prepare and serve food at our schools has contributed to the absence of food-borne illness outbreaks.

For the past several years, we experienced severe staffing shortages because of the difficulty of recruiting employees during a statewide shortage of trained candidates. The Board of Supervisors recently increased salaries for Environmental Health Specialists to make them more competitive with other Bay Area health departments.

The Division is now nearly fully staffed and I am pleased that we will be able to help schools comply with the federal regulations. We expect to be able to provide the twice-per-year inspections.

Even though there have been no reported food-borne illness outbreaks in our schools, we believe that all food facilities, including schools, should be inspected regularly. We have an outstanding record of ensuring that restaurants and other food facilities in Contra Costa are complying with requirements and protecting the public's health.

You can read more about our work to protect the health of our communities on our website at Thank you for listening.

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