GARDEN CITY— Does this establishment appear to be clean? Check. Is the dishwasher hot enough to sanitize dishes? Check. Is food being stored at the proper temperature? Check.

Danielle Mahoney, area supervisor and deputy director of the Nassau County Office of Food Protection, checks the storage date on food.

CSEA member Danielle Mahoney, area supervisor and deputy director of the Nassau County Office of Food Protection, nods her head approvingly as she asks herself these questions while inspecting a local restaurant for compliance with the state’s health codes.

CSEA members in Nassau County are among the local government workers across the state who conduct these essential services that keep the public safe.

Mahoney, along with colleagues such as CSEA member and Program Director for Mobile Units Melanie Williams, inspects food service facilities including restaurants, daycares and school kitchens. Their exemplary work is one of the reasons why the Nassau County Department of Health was named the 2018

National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Local Health Department of the Year.

Inspections a high priority
The inspectors prioritize their days based on public complaints and illness investigations. Once they review that information, they prioritize general inspections.

“We enter the facility unannounced, introduce ourselves and ask for whomever is in charge,” said Mahoney. “We then enter the kitchen and look for imminent health hazards that contribute to illness. [These hazards] have to be corrected immediately.”

Food inspectors also look for overall cleanliness. If necessary, they also discuss with food service staff the importance of having a sick worker policy and educate them on foodborne illness pathogens.

“A lot of what we do supports educating food service providers,” said Mahoney. “People need to know why we’re asking certain questions and why they are in, or out of, compliance.”

Inspectors also discuss with food service staff corrective actions that would help improve their establishments — and their products. If inspectors find an imminent health hazard, they ask establishment staff to voluntarily dispose of food items that led to the hazard. If the establishment staff refuses to do so, the inspector has the power of embargo.

“There are legal proceedings on that,” said Mahoney. “For the most, part, we’re able to use the power of persuasion [to get people to comply].”

Director of Nassau County Office of Food Protection Ilana Greenblatt and Program Director for Mobile Units Melanie Williams discuss the results of a recent illness investigation at a local restaurant.

Improving the process
On average, food inspectors are assigned a territory for three years. That time is long enough to become familiar with the facility, but not long enough to form an attachment that may prevent an inspector from being objective.

A medical intern at the Nassau County Department of Health recently evaluated the department’s food inspection process and results, finding that the most common violation is unmaintained food contact services.

“The most common violation we [food inspectors]find, in terms of people becoming ill, are bare hand contact with food and food being held at the wrong temperature,” said Williams.

To keep their skills updated, inspectors have several trainings throughout the year, including a programs provided by the state, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies.

“We discuss different issues that food inspectors are having and what new processes and procedures are coming into place so that we are up to par with expectations,” said Williams. “We also do independent training that involves us going out on an inspection with a senior sanitarian to supervise.”

In total, the Nassau County Department of Health has 43 food inspectors who conduct inspections of recreational facilities.

“We have about 6,300 places under permit,” said CSEA member and Director of the Nassau County Office of Food Protection Ilana Greenblatt. “That includes everything from K-12 cafeterias, hotel complexes, country clubs and even town beaches.”

Surprisingly, hotel inspections and children’s camp inspections also include checking swimming pools for proper chlorine levels.

“Each of those programs have additional code sections,” said Greenblatt. “For camps, that would include things like pool supervision and illness injury. For hotels, that inspection would include emergency exits and corridors.”

The inspectors note that while being a food inspector can be a thankless job, they are proud of their role in protecting public health. “According to the [U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention], 3,000 people per year die from fooborne pathogens,” said Mahoney. “A simple change in a restaurant can prevent someone from severe illness or death.”

— Wendi Bowie


About Author

Wendi Bowie is an award-winning journalist who has focused the majority of her career on covering Long Island news. Her efforts have earned her the Press Club of Long Island Media Award for Public Affairs and the Long Island Coalition for Fair Broadcasting Folio Award. Wendi was drawn to her current position as Communications Specialist for CSEA’s Long Island Region because it speaks to her strong desire to champion the rights of the common man and woman.

Comments are closed.