Monterey County Health Department Environmental Health Bureau (EHB) Consumer Health Protection Services works, in part, to enhance local food service safety through industry, consumer, and government cooperation. The Food Safety Conference (Conference) was created with the goal of reducing the prevalence of foodborne illness by educating food service workers on safe food handling practices and to provide food facility owners and operators a forum for obtaining new information on food safety laws and regulations from regulatory agencies. Objectives included providing an annual conference, in English and Spanish (translation services), for food facility owners, supervisors, and kitchen staff, in collaboration with related food safety organizations and private businesses that work to assure safe food handling environments. The conference is free to attendees, highly publicized, and a light breakfast is provided. Food Safety Month was created in 2005 to heighten the awareness about the importance of food safety education.
An important feature of the Conference is the Award of Excellence, which recognizes an outstanding local food service facility that continually excels in food safety practices. The goal of the Award is to encourage and recognize facilities that pride themselves on innovation while maintaining the principals of safe food handling. To win the Award of Excellence, a food service facility must:
Exemplify the highest standards of food safety in their profession and have maintained a Gold Seal for at least 5 continuous years
Promote food safety practices, such as utilizing the No Bare Hand Contact” practice
Model commitment to food safety practice sustainability and be a positive role model of food safety
Been active for 5 years and without uncorrected major violations for at least three inspections at the time of nomination
Monterey County, California, has a population of 437,907 with 55% identifying as Hispanic/Latino, 33% are White non-Hispanic. The population is relatively young (46% of residents are under age 30) and 53% of the population do not speaking English less than very well.” The county has a 17% poverty rate, and 1 in 10 of the county's public school children are homeless. Monterey County Health Department (MCHD) tackles diverse health issues reflective of its diverse population. Agriculture in Monterey County is a $8 billion-dollar industry, and the surrounding Salinas Valley is known as the Salad Bowl of the World.” The county is also a tourist destination that attracts nearly 4.5 million visitors annually to its dramatic coastline and marine sanctuary.m The EHB works to protect both of these industries.
The Conference has existed since 2005 and was established in collaboration with the Food Safety Advisory Council of Monterey County (FSAC). The 2018 conference was attended by 140 food facility participants. The overall theme of the 2018 conferences was Working Together for Food Safety;” each year a different topical theme is selected. The 4-hour free Conference focuses on the importance of providing food safety education for the restaurant and food-service industry, while simultaneously raising the public's level of confidence in the industry's commitment to food safety. At the 2017 conference, Hot Dogs for Breakfast!” highlighted the regulation of pets and service animals in food establishments. The keynote speaker was Marni Flagg, Environmental Health Specialist IV, Supervisor of the Consumer Health Protection Services program of the Monterey County EHB who presented on animals in food establishments. Also sharing the platform were Bernard Carr of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, who discussed Egg Safety and Quality Management as it pertains to farmer's markets and swap meets, and Cary Carmichael of Hobart Equipment, who presented training on food equipment Maintenance. The 2018 Conference theme was Food Safety on the Go,” with discussions on food safety requirements for mobile food and temporary food facilities, sustainable food packaging, and fire safety at special events.
Monterey County EHB Food Safety Conference information can be found at http://www.co.monterey.ca.us/government/departments-a-h/health/environmental-health/consumer-health-protection/9th-annual-food-safety-conference/food-safety-conference
Every year, an estimated 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from eating contaminated food. Local environmental health departments, by nature of their responsibilities to enforce and regulate public health codes, inspect food facilities for sanitary and safe food preparation practices. Monterey County EHB chooses to go beyond regulation by providing educational opportunities, establishing working relationships with the regulated industry and the FSAC, especially related to basic requirements and emerging issues. Further, the Food Safety Conference is a collaborative effort of other government regulatory agencies, the food service industry, and industry suppliers and consultants. Per John Ramirez, Director of Monterey County Environmental Health Bureau, Americans have a heightened awareness of food safety now more than ever before, and, through National Food Safety Education Month and our annual Food Safety Conference, we have the opportunity to highlight restaurant and foodservice industry accomplishments in educating employees and the public on proper food safety procedures.”
Monterey County EHB uses a conference platform utilizing local food operators/food consultants as well as state and federal regulatory staff in a collaborative setting to inform local food service facilities and to recognize selected well deserving food establishments for continually excelling in safe food practices. The EHB uses the media as well as social media as a tool to promote the Award of Excellence nominees and awardees. Monterey County Board of Supervisors declare September as Food Safety Month” and receive a presentation of conference speakers and highlights.
While the conference themes and specific topics change from year to year, evidence-practices that address the top five food safety risk factors are discussed. Using these areas as targets for our educational outreach and comparing them to data collected from inspections, we can monitor the occurrence of violations in these areas.
Improper hot/cold holding temperatures of potentially hazardous food
Improper cooking temperatures of food
Dirty and/or contaminated utensils and equipment
Poor employee health and hygiene
Food from unsafe sources
As expected, our analysis of recent violation data indicates a steady decline, from 3,813 total food facility violations in FY 2012-13 to 1,441 in FY 2015-16 or a 38% reduction in violations over that time period. While our food safety efforts include many other outreach and education efforts including inspections, meeting with food facility operations to assess practices, food safety training classes in English and Spanish for food service workers, the conference is a major factor in attaining this reduction.
The EHB and FSAC have been partners in the Monterey County Food Safety Conference for the past fourteen years. The Conference is held annually in September to correspond with the National Restaurant Associations Food Safety Month”. The conference was developed as a further extension of the Gold Seal Inspection program. In 2002 the EHB created an Environmental Compliance Workshop for owners and operators of hazardous materials handlers to help them understand local, state and federal compliance requirements. These workshops were extremely successful and annually attracted up to 400 participants. The success of that program served as a model for establishment of an annual Food Safety Conference utilizing the same methodology of obtaining industry, regulatory and local speakers on food safety, new and emerging laws and regulations and demonstrations of new food safety techniques and question and answer sessions.
The Food Safety Conference's annual theme mirrors the National Restaurant Association's theme and utilizes their online resources. We establish a keynote speaker on that topic and then additional speakers present on topical areas that are also linked to the theme. The conference includes breakout sessions on topics that are more specialized if the planning group determined the need.
In 2017, the EHB with FSAC determined that it was appropriate to recognize food facilities that exemplify the establishment of a culture of food safety by annually maintaining the criteria for the Gold Seal. This led to the establishment of an annual Award of Excellence.
The Award of Excellence nomination forms are distributed among EHB inspectors who nominate up to three food facilities in their respective districts that meet the established award criteria. All nominations are reviewed by the Food Safety Advisory Council of Monterey County (FSAC) which consists of industry members and community leaders. Each candidate must receive support from a majority of the FSAC Awards Committee members in order to be selected. Beyond the Award that is presented at the annual Food Safety Conference, recipients receive formal public recognition through press releases, website, and social media postings created by the EHB and most recently recognition by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.
The stakeholders who provided time, materials, and expertise to the 2018 Food Safety Conference included:
American Culinary Federation, Monterey Bay Chapter
City of Salinas
Clark Pest Control
Food Safety Advisory Council of Monterey County
Food Safety on the Go
Grower Shipper Association of Central California
National Food Safety Education Month
Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System
The County of Monterey
Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority
California Food and Drug
California Restaurant Association
Cannery Row Association
The FSAC is instrumental in planning and producing the annual Conference. The FSAC acts in an advisory capacity to the EHB in developing policies, regulations, and interpretive guides for the retail food safety program. In turn, the EHB informs and updates the local food industry of food safety and sanitation rules, regulations, policies, advisories, rationale, and new techniques to promote food safety, thereby protecting our residents and visitors. The goal of this cooperative effort is to improve food safety program effectiveness plus assist the EHB to control program costs, in the interests of the consumer, the taxpayer, and the food industry.
All FSAC may provide input on topics for the conference, which change annually to address a variety of topics and emerging issues. The FSAC strives for diversity in recruiting members and includes representation from the following groups that are knowledgeable about food safety and the California Uniform Retail Food Facilities Law:
Retail Food Establishments, Chain and Independent
Quick Service Restaurants, Chain and Independent
Full-Service Restaurants, Chain and Independent
Mobile Food Businesses
Pest Control Services
Sanitation Supply and Service
Service/Support Industry (Consultants, Laboratories)
Regulatory Agencies of the Food Industry
The EHB, with the local municipality, obtain a venue with a cost of about $800 to $1,500 annually or utilized no cost utilizing county facilities to host the event. EHB Staff provide in-kind services to manage registration, set up and break down of event displays etc. Posters and flyers are provided for about $400 utilizing internal printing capacities. Remaining costs to conduct the food safety conference are minimal. EHB staff, as part of their work-related duties, provide conference planning and logistics; the speakers volunteer their expertise, and equipment and other supplies are donated by sponsors.
Our conference is evaluated using primary data in the form of an anonymous, in-house created form that allows attendees to rank each conference presentation on a five-point scale, from poor” to excellent” and an open-ended opportunity to suggest improvements for the next year's conference. The evaluation form additionally asks the attendee of their communication preferences (email, brochure, postcard), how the attendee heard about the conference (on-line advertisement, staff meeting, health inspector, word of mouth, other) and contact information should the participant wish to be a participant or sponsor for the next year's event. Our FSAC also evaluates our efforts as an outreach and educational program rather than a program that seeks only to cite violations. Conference participant evaluations help us to keep on focusing on this aspect of training for food safety as partners with the food industry.
The evaluation forms are collected and results aggerated to inform conference organizers about the attendee's reception of conference topics and speakers. The insights gained help the organizing committee make future topical selections and speakers. With the conference agenda as a primary attraction, conference attendees from 2008 through 2018 have ranged from 90 to 250 persons annually. We attribute increased attendance at the conference to the quality of the presentations, media coverage around the Award of Excellence nominees and awardees, and growing number of collaborative partners. The conference organizers approach each conference as an opportunity to exceed quality of prior year conferences. We cite our productive, cooperative partnership of government regulatory agencies and food industry business and service providers as being a primary factor in the success of the Conference.
In 14 years of producing the Food Safety Conference we have learned to keep our topics relevant and to include emerging issues and corresponding solutions. We have also learned the value of reaching out to all types of regulatory agencies and industry partners, as they perform roles that we can all learn from. Over the years, the food service community has also expressed appreciation for learning from the EHB in an informational setting. The conference relationship building and information exchange exceeds the conference's nominal production cost by far, and sustainability is thereby ensured. The FSAC, being aware of the wave of newly passed legislation that enlarges the scope of retail food, is keen to promote the annual conference and expand its membership base. We have also learned that providing information in Spanish to accommodate the line staff who will most likely be the first ones to observe or detect potential food borne illness factors is vital to this program.