Health District mulling food safety changes

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File photo Grant County Health Officer Alexander Brzezny, shown here in 2017, outlined new air quality guidelines and other changes at the Health District’s meeting Wednesday.

MOSES LAKE — The Grant County Health District is considering significant changes to its food and restaurant permits that would simplify the permit structure and likely result in increased fees.

At a regular meeting of the district’s board of directors on Wednesday, Environmental Health Manager Jon Ness told board members the district is considering consolidating and restructuring its current 94 food inspection categories down to 16.

“We are looking at our permit categories,” Ness said. “We sat down with food establishments, and we looked at transitioning for labeling the type (of establishment) to what are the food processes.”

The county begins its current food and restaurant inspection categories by looking at the type of establishment — anything from an espresso shack to a grocery store to a full catering operation — and the complexity of the processes involved. They came up with “94 combinations” that are inefficient and confusing to both county health inspectors and establishment managers and owners.

Consolidating food inspection categories would also require changing the fees charged to establishment owners, in part to increase the number of inspections and also in part to make the county’s food inspection program self-sustaining.

“Part of the goal is more consistent inspections,” Ness said.

Ness said currently the health district only manages to do about 60 percent of the restaurant and establishment inspections that they are required to do. County Health Officer Alexander Brzezny said the fees charged would depend on how many people the health district requires to do all of the inspections it needs to do.

“The fees cannot be stated,” he said. “We’re hoping for 100 percent of inspections and for fees to cover 100 percent of the costs.”

Currently, Washington’s administrative code and U.S. federal codes require every food establishment to be inspected at least once every six months.

Grant County has been looking at the fees it charges for food safety inspections as a way of increasing revenue and freeing up outside funds to pay for other programs, such as dealing with infectious disease outbreaks.

Brzezny also told board members that the state Department of Health and the Department of Ecology are both working on a new series of air quality standards for when public events and schools should be closed.

According to Brzezny, the new standard — which is still only in draft form — will rely entirely on the level of particulate matter in the air. The goal is to give school, county and health officials a better guide when wildfire season arrives.

“If it is 150 (micrograms of soot per cubic meter of air) or more, they recommend closing school or outdoor activities,” Brzezny said. “That’s a pretty severe restriction.”

However, Brzezny said the new standards were about informing both the public and event organizers when the air is full of smoke. As health officer, he can recommend closing a public event — such as a concert at the Gorge or the county fair — but event organizers are responsible for the closing of the event.

“It’s up to the organizer to respond,” he said. “The burden is with them, and they may not follow. We have no recourse to compel.”

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.

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