What are the changes to restaurant inspections from the state environment department and what do they mean for you?
First of all, a little background… The state of New Mexico has not updated their food service environmental regulations since 1999. There have been scientific changes since then that make the proposed regulations (www.env.nm.gov/foodprogram) actually better for restaurants. For example, the new regulations require hot holding temperature at 135 °F not 140 °F as in the current regulations. The new regulations also allow for longer holding times for hot and cold food.
As we review what all this means, keep in mind that the full regulations have not yet been finalized. The information that follows is based on the initial information provided, and not the final regulations, so some information may change.
There are two training requirements that will be a challenge for many restaurants to implement, one at the employee level and one at the management level. The Albuquerque Environment Department established parts of these requirements in 2013, so restaurants in Albuquerque and Bernalillo are already complying with the new regulations.
The new regulations would require a restaurant to have at least one person at the establishment certified as a Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM). This is a management level course that is proctored and is valid for 5 years. The new food regulations also require that at least one person be designated as in-charge all hours the restaurant is open. This means you cannot leave your new server “in-charge” while you step out to the bank. Someone with authority should be at your establishment at all times. This person does not have to be a Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM) but must be able to sign inspection documents on your behalf.
The other training requirement is a Food Handlers Card. This would be a requirement for any “Food Employee” meaning an individual working with unpackaged food, food equipment or utensils, or food-contact surfaces. This is a course in basic food safety. Your employees would come to you with this card or they would be required to get their card within 30 days of employment. This is a prerequisite for employment so you as the employer would not be required to pay to get your staff licensed. The licensing is expected to cost $15 to $35 and should be available in English and Spanish. It will be available online, and we will also offer public and private classes throughout the state to help get the industry compliant. Your employees will come to you with basic food safety knowledge: Good Personal Hygiene, Controlling Time and Temperature, Preventing Cross Contamination, Cleaning and Sanitizing.
With the online availability of food inspections, and a huge surge in media coverage of inspection results, the negative effect on public perception is too critical for us to leave professional standards to chance.
For many years, the New Mexico Restaurant Association was opposed to education mandates. Now, as the regulations get more complicated and as we have more publicity for downgrades, recalls, and food poisoning we believe we must protect restaurants by advocating for and providing that education that keeps restaurants off the front page of the paper. It is our hope that when the NM Environmental Department is requiring food safety education for employees, negative inspections will decrease, and positive media will increase.
We get calls in our NMRA office daily from people moving from other states wanting to know where they should get their food handler card. At this point we tell them it is not required but soon, with these changes, the food handler card will be required.
The NM Environment Department is not just going to drop a bomb on you and make everyone be in compliance immediately. They are giving the industry a one year grace period to be in compliance for all the requirements including the education requirements. We do not know when the new rules will go into effect. The 2nd quarter of 2016 is our best guess at this time.
NMRA is here to help. We will have classes around the state and help you implement these requirements in your restaurant. Onsite private classes will be available. We are also working with NRA to build and provide an online Foodhandlers Course that is compliant and approved by the NM Environmental Health Department. We are always available to answer your questions. Do not hesitate to call our office.