Just a few years ago, if you were hired by a restaurant in the Valley, your training usually included a trip to some county office, where you had to take a test on food safety for a "Food Service Worker card." That piece of plastic signified you knew the proper temperatures for storing food and other safety basics (or, at least, you once memorized them off some pamphlet only to quickly forget them.) But now, those cards are no more.
As of this April, the county's Environmental Services Department (the agency in charge of inspecting area restaurants) has decided to ditch the card.
"There was really no need for that extra step," Johnny Diloné, the Department's public information officer, says.
These changes to the health code came after the state enacted a statute (ARS 11-269.12), prompting new regulations from the county. The Department formed an outreach program, asking for stakeholder and public input on the health code, which eventually lead it to discontinue the cards, a move approved by the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
But just because the cards are gone doesn't mean the county isn't requiring restaurants to train workers in food safety. According to David Morales, the department's managing supervisor for quality and compliance, restaurants still need to have proof of food safety training for every employee.
Workers have 30 days from the time they're first hired to take an ANSI-accredited food safety course, many of which are online. Existing workers who already have cards are fine until their card expires.
But enforcement of the safety courses sounds slightly dicey. In an interview with New Times, department officials said they'll really only be checking for employee certification if a restaurant is getting multiple, serious violations.
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"If the outcomes [of inspections] are great, we’re okay with everything going the way it is," Morales said. "If we start seeing violations, then we’re going to start digging a little deeper."
Diloné says the Department wants to put more power in the hands (gloved hands, we hope) of restaurant owners and managers.
"One of the things that came about is, 'hey why don’t we let the operator decide which training is more appropriate for them'.. and let them verify and ensure that their employees take their training."