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Food safety promoted in the emergence of kitchens on wheels

Megann Horstead, Reporter – news@thetimesweekly.com | 7/26/2018, 6 a.m.
Amid the rise in popularity of food trucks in today’s world, the Will County Health Department has demonstrated a continued ...

Amid the rise in popularity of food trucks in today’s world, the Will County Health Department has demonstrated a continued commitment to educating and promoting food safety.

According to Tom Casey, the director of environmental health for the Will County Health Department, the work of the health department remains the same, even as food trucks are “putting kitchens on wheels.”

“We’re looking for the same things,” Casey said of food inspections.

The primary difference, Casey said, is “food trucks must have a base of operation” to store its vehicle and products. “Sometimes a business can serve as a base of operation.” “It’s not complicated to start a food truck operation.”

Casey said the health department has unannounced inspections of all food establishments throughout the year based on risks.

For example, liquor stores and convenience stores may get inspected once a year, Casey said. Fast food restaurants are subjected to inspections twice a year.

Other food establishments, including those inside nursing homes and daycare operations, get inspected three or more time a year, depending on how they score, Casey said.

Any food establishment with an earned score of 70 or fewer is required to fulfill corrective actions within 24 hours. For those with scores of 60 or fewer, immediate suspension of a permit can result until a re-examination is satisfied to the health department’s standards.

Among some of the common problems noted at food establishments is hand-washing.

From the kitchen to the dining area, food inspection citations can be drawn for not having hot, running water, sewage backups and pest infestations, among other issues.

Casey said the point system gives each violation a certain weight, based on the level of seriousness.

The health department will be adopting the new Federal Drug Administration Food Code by January 2019 to coincide with the county’s annual approval of a food service and retail food store sanitation ordinance.

The difference, Casey said, is that “it’s more manager-controlled.”

During the inspection process, Will County Health Department officials are trained as sanitarians to ask questions.

Typically, when a food establishment is shutdown temporarily by the health department for failing an inspection, management is not required to disclose why they’re closed.

“They can put up a sign saying, ‘out for lunch,’” Casey said.

The health department maintains records kept on file of its inspections. Members of the public can access information of this type through the Freedom of Information Act process.

“We’re not out to hurt businesses,” Casey said. “We’re out to help the public. How they run their operation determines how the inspection goes. How training is conducted, determines how it goes.”