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Press Release

Monongalia Co. Health Dept. adapts risk-based inspections for restaurants

Jul. 25, 2023

Contact: MaryWade Burnside
Public Information Officer
Monongalia County Health Department
Morgantown, WV 26505
(304) 598-5152 | www.monchd.org
MaryWade.Burnside@wv.gov

Monongalia Co. Health Dept. adapts risk-based inspections for restaurants

MORGANTOWN, WV (July 25, 2023) — Monongalia County food establishments with a history of issues will be inspected more often in a new risk-based system that went into effect on July 5.

“We will spend more time with facilities that aren’t doing as well, maybe because of their history or maybe a language barrier, and they need additional training,” said Jennifer Costolo-Michael, the registered sanitarian with Monongalia County Health Department’s Environmental Health program who helped implement the new system.

Previously, all food establishments in Monongalia County were inspected twice a year, and more often if a complaint had been issued or if a follow-up to a previous inspection was required. Restaurants must be investigated no more than 10 days after a complaint.

In the new system, establishments have been placed in risk categories of 1, 2 and 3. Coincidentally, the number assigned is also the amount of times the establishment will automatically undergo an annual review, with follow-up visits done as needed. Restaurants will remain in their respective risk categories for at least a year and after that, they could be moved to a different category depending on any changes, Costolo-Michael
said.

There are about 850-860 food establishments in Monongalia County. Monongalia County Health Department employs eight sanitarians, plus another one who inspects restaurants as a partial duty, who conduct inspections.

“Risk-based inspections use the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations (FDA) foodborne illness risk factors to determine the number of times per permit year that a food establishment is inspected,” said Jennifer Hutson, food program manager at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Environmental Health Services.

“This method takes into consideration the types of food preparation required for the menu, the quantity of meals and services provided and the food consumers,” she added. “It also considers the food establishment’s inspection history and compliance with food safety rules.”

In addition to Monongalia County, other West Virginia health departments that have moved to this type of inspection are Kanawha-Charleston, Mid-Ohio Valley (Parkersburg), Putnam, Upshur-Buckhannon and Jefferson.

“Most enrollees have adopted the risk-based inspection method,” Hutson said. “Some jurisdictions that are not enrolled are also utilizing the risk-based inspection method for establishing inspection frequencies.”

Sanitarians also inspect a variety of other establishments in the county, including swimming pools, hotels and motels, schools, day care centers, tattoo and piercing studios. Other services that MCHD Environmental Health offer include radon testing, septic and wells, food
safety training and vector surveillance and control.

Costolo-Michael got the idea for the new risk-based system through a menteeship that MCHD Environmental Health has been undergoing through a grant from threeorganizations: the FDA; the National Association of County and City Health Organizations (NACCHO) and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA).

“We discussed our inspection strategy across the board,” Costolo-Michael said. “Most jurisdictions have chosen to go to this risk-based style. It saves time in the long run and gives us the opportunity to address more issues when we need to.”

Issues can include improper holding temperatures for food so it’s too hot or too cold; inadequate cooking that’s not at the proper temperature; and poor personal hygiene among workers.

“A lot of it is by observation,” Costolo-Michael added. “We go in and make sure employees are washing their hands, especially when they are changing duties or tasks. And if you see someone running to the bathroom quite often, you know that’s an issue that needs to be addressed.”

Costolo-Michael traveled to different locations in the country for the menteeships and worked with staff members from the Washoe County Health District in Reno, Nevada; Jefferson County Health Department in Charles Town; and currently, Boulder County Public Health in Boulder, Colorado.

“The reason this approach is preferred is that it focuses the time and attention of the facility back on the foodborne illness risk factors,” said Lane Drager, coordinator of the Consumer Protection Program at Boulder County Public Health.

“The inspector needs to focus on what’s happening while they are there, looking for dynamic activities like cooling food, preparing food, cooking food, etc. They can then ask questions and observe that these practices are being done safely.”

After learning about risk-based inspections, Costolo-Michael presented the information to Todd Powroznik, MCHD Environmental Health program manager.

“It’s something that’s going on in the rest of the country and something we needed to move forward with to make our state that much stronger,” Powroznik said. “By identifying high- risk foods or high-risk preparation processes, sanitarians can focus the inspection on those foods or processes that are more likely to cause foodborne illness if uncontrolled.”

Restaurant owners have been receptive, Costolo-Michael noted. “They understand the process and understand that some places need extra help and time dedicated to go to their facilities. They understand that they have to assume ownership of their facilities.”

For up-to-date information on health and wellness in Monongalia County, check out
monchd.org and follow the health department on Facebook and Twitter @WVMCHD and on
Instagram at #wvmchd.

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