Fair food stands held to cleanliness standards


By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, September 05, 2013

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W ith fair week in full swing and alongside everyone's marked-off territories for the upcoming parade, you also see temporary food stands sprout up eager to serve people and make a few bucks.

Running a food stand, even a temporary one, takes a lot of work, because of the regulations set by the Navajo Nation through the Food Service Sanitation Code.

Elvina Clark-Joe, service unit sanitarian for the Nation's Office of Environmental Health and Code Enforcement, is responsible for making sure people follow the code.

"We're the health advisors to the Navajo Nation," Clark-Joe explained.

If anyone wants to set up a temporary food stand during the Navajo Nation Fair, the first thing they will need is their food handler's card.

"If they don't have a training certificate then they may not have the thorough knowledge of food safety practices that are necessary," said Herman Shorty, director of environmental health and code enforcement.

Last year they were able to host almost 160 food handler training session on the Navajo Nation, said Shorty, adding that more than 1,000 people were trained. There are two types of food handler's cards, the blue one that lasts for two years and the red one which is a one-year card.

"They can have either one if they want to set up a stand at the fair," Clark-Joe said, adding that the blue cards are also good for people who work in school kitchens or fast food restaurants, but the red card is only good for one year so it is used mainly for temporary food stands.

Alongside their cards food handlers need a Navajo Nation Itinerant Sanitation Permit, meat and ice receipts, stem thermometer, chlorine test strips, equipment to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, hand-washing station, sanitizing solution, dishwashing station, covered wastewater container, covered trash can, single service condiments and single service food service items (i.e. plates, cups, spoons).

"The most common (violation) would be the lack of hand washing stations," Clark-Joe said.

"People do a fair job at home, but that's at home. When we're dealing with the general public we have to take a conscious effort on safety," Shorty said.

He noted that a lot of the regulations are common sense, but working under pressure at a busy food stand can tempt people to take short-cuts.

Violations of the Food Service Code are found by inspectors, who cruise the stands with their 19-point inspection sheets.

"Depending on how many violations they have we will refer it to the Navajo Nation Code Enforcement," Clark-Joe said. That is when the decision to close the stand down will occur. "We just provide the recommendations, and will have 10 to 12 inspectors out there with our sheets."

Shorty said vendors may either correct the violation on site or ask for time. The severity of the violation will determine how much time the vendor gets to comply and whether the stand will be shut down in the meantime.

"They (food vendors) are there to provide a good product and we're there to help them provide that product," Shorty said adding that he wants food vendors to see the code enforcers as allies rather than adversaries.

The other common violations are not properly storing single-service condiments and not properly draining excess water within an ice chest, said Shorty, adding that those are the most visible. They do occasionally come across people who don't have their itinerant food service permit or even the food handler's card.

"Within the fairgrounds they're fairly clean, it's the outside we tend to worry about more," said Clark-Joe. Within the fairgrounds there are generally between 40 and 50 stands, and off the fairgrounds it's anywhere between 20 and 30.

Today through the weekend, Clark-Joe said, is when the inspectors are most active, and it takes them 15 to 20 minutes to inspect a food stand.

Advice for any food stand operator? Clark-Joe said, "It's a lot of work, and make sure the foods are from a reliable source. Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Wash your hands."

Added Shorty, "I do respect the people that do want to serve the fellow man because it takes an extraordinary amount of will to service another individual."

His best advice is to apply the information learned at the training and be prepared because his department will be checking.

For more information or to report any violations contact the Office of Environmental Health at 928-729-8440 or 928-871-6585.