Vacancy Announcement

PROCESSING ASSISTANT III

Health Education

 

Salary Grade:

57

Salary Range:

$22,902 – $28,741 – $36,644

Closing Date:

Open until Filled

Location:

Spindale, NC (Rutherford County)

Description of Work:

• This position will provide clerical support and participate in community outreach and community engagements to promote the available services of Foothills Health District.
• Participate in community outreach and make contacts with various community organizations and businesses.
• Assist the Public Health Educator with awareness about Public Health Services and help with displaying education materials for community events.
• Other job duties as assigned.

Minimum Education And Experience:

Graduation from High School and demonstrated possession of knowledge, skills and abilities gained through at least one year of office assistant/secretarial experience; or an equivalent combination of training and experience.

Necessary Special Qualifications:

General knowledge of office or work unit procedures, methods and practices. Ability to screen communications based on predetermined guidelines to independently respond or route inquiries. Ability to maintain patient confidentiality as well as the ability to deal professionally with the public.

Application Process:
To apply for this position, submit the required NC state application (PD-107) to the Foothill Health District Personnel Department, 221 Callahan-Koon Road, Spindale, NC 28160. Applications can be downloaded at www.foothillshd.org. Completed applications and resumes can be e-mailed to persnonnel@foothillshd.org or faxed to (828) 287-6059.

 

 

 

2024 Holiday Schedule

New Year’s Day January 1, 2024 Monday
Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday January 15, 2024 Monday
Good Friday March 29, 2024 Friday
Memorial Day May 27, 2024 Monday
Independence Day July 4, 2024 Thursday
Labor Day September 2, 2024 Monday
Veterans Day November 11, 2024 Monday
Thanksgiving November 28 & 29, 2024 Thursday & Friday
Christmas December 24, 25 & 26,2024 Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hi Jason, I love your “Ask A Health Inspector” series, and I am a long time reader (since the very beginning!). I have a question… Since summer is upon us, my kid is dying to get to the swimming pool, but I’m worried about recreational water illnesses. Is there something you can tell me that will ease my mind?
-Rachael

 

A

Hi Rachael! There are few things quite as refreshing in the hot summer months as taking a dip in the pool. The sun beating down, the sound of children’s laughter echoing through the park, Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” on the teenagers radio, the cool drops spraying over you as that kid cannonballs into the deep end. Well you know what else could be spraying on you? Disease, that’s what.

Say hello to Cryptosporidium. (It’s VERY pleased to meet you) Also known as “Crypto” (not to be confused with Superman’s dog, Krypto…) this is a parasite that causes a disease known as cryptosporidiosis, and according to the CDC, it is the leading cause of waterborne disease among humans in the United States. In most healthy people, Cryptosporidiosis will produce a pretty significant bout of watery diarrhea, and will pass in a few weeks without medication. In immunocompromised individuals, and babies and the elderly, it can be a bit more threatening. Cryptosporidium has a tough, outer shell, and literally laughs at chlorine. OK, not literally, but normal concentrations of chlorine in most pools will not kill it.

So Jason, where does Crypto comes from?
Like many microorganisms, cryptosporidium occurs naturally, and enjoys the warm, comfy neighborhoods of animal and human intestines. Thick walled, sporulated oocysts (Sporulated means the undeveloped infective part of the organism is living inside the oocyst, and is waiting for the next victim…) exit the host through feces or sometimes through respiratory secretions (cough, cough), and typically hang around the pool like those kids whose parents drop them off in the morning and then pick them up in the evening…This is not a daycare, lady! Except crypto isn’t scared of the lifeguards, and totally does not clean up after itself. It’s outer shell makes it especially resistant to chlorine or other disinfectants.
Again, according to the CDC, the average swimmer has about 0.14 grams of feces on their ~ahem~ …person…at any given time. (Can you believe someone got paid to figure that out?) How much is 0.14 grams, you say? Well, let’s put it into perspective. The average paper clip weighs about 1 gram, a pinch of salt weighs about one gram, and a stick of gum weighs about one gram. So figure 1/10 of a stick of gum, or the average size of a piece of Nerds candy, and that’s about how much feces you have on your body right now. And of course, babies could carry more than that…speaking as a parent, I’m going to wager that it’s A LOT more…So when you go swimming, you can pretty much plan on that rinsing off into the pool. Of course, not everyone is infected with crypto, but nobody is going to be wearing a swimsuit that says, “Hey, I had diarrhea last week, and I’m most likely still shedding!” (If you see this swimsuit, please leave the pool immediately.)

So how can Crypto be killed?
Well, there are a couple of different ways to kill Cryptosporidium, but boiling all the water in the swimming pool for one full minute is not usually the most feasible method, so chlorine is the way to go…Now, here is the problem. In North Carolina, swimming pools are required to maintain at least 1 ppm chlorine at all times. (That’s like one dollar out of one million dollars) That’s well and good for most microorganisms that get in the pool. For example, Chlorine at 1 ppm will kill E .Coli in less than one minute. Cool, huh? But let’s think of a few other nasty little guys…Hepatitis A? 16 minutes at 1 ppm. Giardia? 45 minutes at 1 ppm. And our new friend Crypto? Well, he’s going to need to sit there for 15,300 minutes…that’s 10.6 days (#theydidthemath). Do you think anyone wants to close their pool for 10.6 days? Not when its 95 degrees out and you’ve got your Sirius XM set to the Big 80s on 8. So the answer is super-chlorination (or hyper-chlorination). This involves raising the level of chlorine in the pool to levels that will kill the Crypto much quicker. And by quicker, I mean hours, not days. So, let’s assume there is a diarrheal incident in a pool that is maintained correctly and is using a chlorine stabilizer. What happens next? First thing, of course, is to get everyone out (shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish once they figure out what’s happened), next the level of chlorine is raised to 20, 30 or 40 ppm. At 20 ppm, Crypto will be killed in 28 hours. At 30 ppm, 18 hours, and at 40 ppm, Crypto will be killed in 8.5 hours. Still, that’s a full Saturday that the kids won’t be able to use the pool. And after the super-chlorination is complete, everything must be brought back to normal maintenance conditions. So, as you can see, a lot of work goes into maintaining a pool when a Crypto-incident is suspected, and everything must be considered Crypto, AND that’s in a pool where everything is maintained correctly.
Let’s talk about things you can do to prevent a Crypto infection.
1. Make sure that the pool you are about to enter is well maintained.
2. Shower before entering, and after exiting the pool
3. Don’t swallow the water (Seems obvious, but if you have kids, you know what I’m talking about)
4. Pay attention to your surroundings. If you see something you are concerned about, let a person in charge know, and stay out of the water.
5. Keep your hands out of your mouth while in the pool and after exiting until you have washed.

Other things to watch out for when going swimming include the drains. Make sure that none are cracked or broken, or move. They are required to be securely attached to the bottom of the pool and be maintained in good repair. The drains can have an incredible suction, and without the drain covers, are a major hazard for children AND adults. Also, you want to make sure there are no openings or holes in the walls of the pool. Even a return inlet pipe (a return inlet is where water comes back into the pool from the pump, filter and sometimes the water heater) can be a hazard if it does not have a proper cover. Re-enforce to the kids that just because a hole is there, you don’t have to stick your hands, hair, skin, Nemo, Dory or anything else in there. Suction hazards exist all over pools, and it’s going to be bad if something gets stuck in a pipe. It’s a good idea to look over the pool deck as well, to ensure that there are no trip hazards present. Cracks, settling, and water damage can lead to dangerous conditions. The environmental health department is responsible for issuing permits and conducting inspections on all year round and seasonal public pools, but we can’t be there all the time.
Be safe, and have a great summer!

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hello Mr. Jason! I love your “Ask A Health Inspector” articles, but I wanted to see if you could break from food safety for a while, and offer any insight into the upcoming solar eclipse! My family is very excited about it, and we are looking forward to hearing any additional information you might have!
-Winston

 

A

 “Without pause or preamble, silent as orbits, a piece of the Sun went away.”
– Annie Dillard (1979)

Well Winston, that’s a really great question, but before we start, you should know that I’m a health inspector, not an “astonomist” (That’s a word…right?) but I enjoy a solar eclipse as much as the next guy. I remember back in the early 80s at my school, we all watched the eclipse (years later, I would recognize that this was only a partial eclipse) and then went inside and had “solar sandwiches” for lunch. It was a very memorable day. Hey! Did you know that eclipses are not really that rare? What IS rare is having an eclipse close to where YOU are. Like once every 400 years or so. However, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t include some food safety information in an “Ask A Health Inspector” article. So, for that very reason, let’s talk about final cook temperatures (don’t worry, I’m going to tie it all in somehow…I hope…). If you are a long time reader of my AAHI articles, you’ll remember my summer grilling article about keeping things clean, separate, cooked thoroughly, and cooled properly. But being the cotton-headed ninny-muggins that I am, I failed to mention the final cooking temperatures for grilled meats. The 2017 NC food code lists final cooking temperatures for all meats…and not just the good ol’ ribeye or boneless, skinless chicken breast, but things you’ve never heard of….baluts for example…you know what that is? I’ll bet you don’t, because it’s gross…but it’s in there…(look it up).

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use the grill as the main cooking source, but the final cook temperatures are the same no matter the method of applying heat.

So let’s say the eclipse is happening today, and you want to make sure that your pork shoulder roast (or Boston Butt) is going to be safe by the 100% totality. (The 100% totality, meaning total blackout, is only viewable in “the path of totality” which is literally a path that runs across the country, about 70 miles wide and crosses over a few locations pretty close to Asheville) You might say, “Jason, how long do I need to keep my “Penumbra Pork” (the penumbra is the shaded region during an eclipse that is just outside the umbra, which is the darkest point during an eclipse, and is where one will experience the true magic of the 100% totality. Most of us watching the eclipse will see or be in the penumbra region) in the grill to ensure food safety?” Well, I’d probably tell you that what really matters is to get your butt a food thermometer and cook it until it’s at least 145 degrees F for 4 minutes. Now, speaking from experience, I would also tell you that for the best pork BBQ,(I’m talking completely fall apart BBQ) you’re going to need to get that butt up to 195 degrees F, but that’s a personal preference. In fact, pretty much any chunk of meat is going to need to get to 145 degrees F and be maintained there for 4 minutes to be safe. Now, I’m not talking about thick cut steaks, or chicken breasts…I’m talking about roasts. A roast is a big chunk of meat of some species, that is usually a lesser quality cut, that is meant to be cooked for a long period of time. That “Right Ascension Roast”? (The ‘right ascension’ is a mathematical equation that divides the sky into sections, called hours, where each hour represents 15 degrees) It’s going to need to reach 145 degrees F for 4 minutes to be safe.

Speaking of steaks, let’s talk about those big, juicy, thick, prime cut, slabs of deliciousness…I’m talking about the ribeye…(or the New York strip, or the filet mignon, or whatever strip steak you want to pick up.) We can also throw seafood, and eggs in this category. To ensure food safety, the FDA (and the 2009 NC food code) recommends that seafood, eggs and steaks are cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F and maintained for 15 seconds. That “Lunar Lamb Chop”? That’s going to need to reach 145 degrees too. “But Jason!” you’re going to scream… “I like my steak rare and 145 degrees is practically burnt!” “Well…” I’m going to respond… “I’m not the food police, if you want to eat your steak rare, I don’t care, that’s up to you! The FDA also says don’t eat raw oysters, but heck, we all know what I do…I mean I wrote an entire article on it, for Pete’s sake! FDA is not the boss of me!” Eggs? I like them over easy, or even raw in Caesar salad dressing. I realize I’m taking a risk, but, I also like to live dangerously….

Alright, let’s move on to ground meats. In the health inspectin’ business, we like to get fancy and call them comminuted meats, but basically, we’re talking about anything that is mechanically tenderized or ground up. So think about things like burgers, cubed steaks, or even mixed species like a meatball or meatloaf mixture. These items have to be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 155 degrees F for 15 seconds. Now when it comes to ground meats, I don’t take risks. I cook every ground meat item (except ground poultry) to 155 degrees F or above. Here’s why: When meat is ground up, it is basically taken apart in shreds, and is then put back together. Every one of those little strands of meat now has the possibility of becoming contaminated. All that surface area is just right for picking up all kinds of contamination as they move through a grinder or cuber. Yummy! Now think about that ribeye we just talked about…how many sides does a ribeye have? Two! All you gotta do is kill the stuff on the surface of a ribeye, man! Easy! Doesn’t even matter how thick…As long you get it hot enough to kill the bacteria on the surface, you’re fine. But ground meat doesn’t work that way…you have to get every strand of that meat hot enough to kill that bacteria. 155 degrees is going to do that for you. So when you are waiting for the eclipse to start, and you want to get those “Besselian Burgers” (the Besselian elements are used to help calculate the path of the umbra and penumbra during an eclipse) done before the blackout, don’t listen to Bubba when he tells you he’s been eating raw burger for years and he’s fine…take a good look at Bubba…think about that…don’t be like Bubba.
Alright, finally, chicken and other poultry. Chicken is a little different than the other foods we’ve mentioned. We are looking for 165 degrees for 15 seconds here, but in my personal experience, just because it is safe to eat at 165, doesn’t necessarily mean it is desirable at 165. I like my “Corona Chicken” (the corona is the outer area of the sun that is only visible during a total eclipse) to cook a little longer and really get all the pink out. That’s just me though, if you like your chicken to be squishy and a little pink, hey, I’m not judging. Products containing ground poultry (turkey burgers, chicken sausages, etc.) also need to reach 165. Baluts? Yep, 165. (I’m assuming you have already looked them up by now). Ratites? 165. (A ratite is member of a certain group of flightless birds. Think emu, or ostrich…I know what you’re thinking…Road Runner… Amirite? Curiously, a road runner is not a ratite, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because even Wile E. Coyote can’t catch one, so we don’t stand a chance).

Now, I’m going to step away from the safety side of things for a minute and give you a little information on the setup of your home cooking area, but before we go re-inventing the grill…(see what I did there?) you should know that restaurants mostly use gas for their grills, and that’s just fine. They always work great, and if you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant, you know the results can be fantastic. At home, though, I like to use charcoal. If you have a gas grill, why, that’s just fine too. Some restaurants have grills that are designed to be hot in the front, and hottest in the back. That’s why you see all those steaks and chicken parts sitting back there in different locations on the grill. Food employees know where to put them on the grill, and then it’s not necessary to constantly stand over them wondering if the chicken is going to be burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. You can do the same thing at home by piling all the charcoal to one side of the kettle and making a slight slope toward the middle. This gives you a nice area of really super hot at the back and kinda medium toward the center, and then a cool area on the other end. Same for gas grills, but a little harder to control…If you have 2 burners, you need one on and one off. 3 burners? One full blast, middle one medium, and 3rd one off completely. This setup is going to work for 95% (I’m totally making this number up, but you get the idea) of the things you are going to be grilling at home. Now if you are smoking something, like pork shoulder or brisket, that’s a different setup (and a different article).

But at least now you can safely grill something wonderful on the day of the eclipse (August 21, 2017) instead of what you had originally planned…Moonpies and Tang with a side of starbursts, while listening to “Don’t Steal My Sunshine”, and “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, or maybe “Dancing in the Dark”…or how about “Darkside of the the Moon”? Ooooh, or “I believe in a Thing called Love” by The Darkness…? “Blinded by the Light”…(I could go on all day…)

Enjoy the eclipse, friends!

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Christmas Special

Part II

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the office,
Not a creature was stirring, not even the bosses.
But I, at my desk, was trying to write
Sighing and realizing I’d be here all night.

Dimming the screen brightness and adjusting my glasses,
I was hammering out articles as Christmas eve passes

The coffee was steaming on its eye in a pot,
That, and some soup, the only things that were hot.

I glanced out the window for a peek at the snow
Where a blizzard was blowing snowflakes to and fro.

When what to my wandering eyes did appear?
A mobile food unit?!?
And 8 tiny reindeer?

I rushed through the office and ran out the door,
Knocking papers aside and pushing chairs to the floor

The truck flew through the air as if by some kind of magic
And landed perfectly in front of me despite the holiday traffic

Out hopped a fellow in a jolly red suit
And adjusting his cap, and stomping his boots,
made his way forward, smoothing the hair on his chin,
“Claus is the name” he said with a grin

“I’d like to acquire a permit” he said
“for my truck, Tinsel Tacos and
Sweet Gingerbreads.”

He watched as I glanced at his truck, front to back,
“I assure you it’s got everything down to the dish rack!”
His food truck was decked in a holiday fashion,
“Christmas is my gig, but tacos? My Passion!

He flung the door open before I could speak,
And climbed up inside, just as quick as a wink.
I said, “Wait, wait, Santa! That’s not how it’s done!”
But I took a step in, for nothing but fun.

I saw a large bag on the floor of his truck
And he was pulling food out while I stood there dumbstruck.

I stammered and shook,
And took a step back.
When did he prepare this food
from his sack?

He turned around quick, hands behind his back
And fired up a grill for a quick midnight snack.

“What’s your pleasure?” he asked
His eyes all aglow,
“Al pastor? Asada? Fried fish? Chorizo?

His menu looked solid,
His equipment? Commercial.
The taco he offered was more than a mouthful.

I started to think this was some kind of bribe,
And then he started reciting a long diatribe
About cooking before permitting and the storing of foods
And how inspectors in other counties were “really cool dudes”.

“Mrs. Claus has a gift for the cooking of rices, and
An insatiable curiosity for the mixing of spices.
She prepared all this food at the pole for my trip.”
He said with a wink and a smile on his lip.

I straightened myself up, and said “Hold on, Now!”
And shaking my head and furrowing my brow,
I slapped the taco out of his hand,
And demanded he show me his blueprints and plans

“A completed application would be your first step
In gaining a permit to begin some food prep

And if you bring food in before getting approval
You have just guaranteed its immediate removal

Your spoons and utensils are all made of candy!
And you keep them all stored in a hard candy pantry!

And please don’t think I’m being unreasonable,
but candy cane forks are not easily cleanable

And let’s talk about water, where’s your handwashing sink?
Is that an ice machine with mold and mildew that’s pink?”

His beard, like snow, was so white and so hairy,
“I’m sorry Santa”, I said, ” but we’ll have to meet at your commissary.”

Your gray water dumped and utensils washed daily,
We have to make sure you are handling food safely.

And that pipe that you smoke, with its sweet Christmas scent,
Will have to stay out if you want a permit.”

His mouth dropped open, his pipe fell to the floor
He mumbled some curse words, but didn’t say more.

He slammed the door shut, I could tell he was angry.
He grimaced and pointed a gloved finger at me.

“Fine”, he sighed, with complete exasperation,
“I’ll give it away, for a ‘suggested donation’ ”

Then he gave me a frown, and gave me the finger,
And dashed out the lot without even a jingle.

“On Bacon, on Bagel, on Beancurd, on Gouda,
On Jackfruit, on Chutney, on Tater, on Strudel”

And I heard him exclaim, with a voice like a broadcasters,
“Merry Christmas to all, except Jason Masters”

Have a safe and Merry Christmas, friends!

**BLOOPER REEL**

He gave me a frown, and spit on the floor,
Then he kicked a small cat that had run through the door!

Then he gave me a frown, and shook his large fist,
He gave me a look…boy was he PISSED!

Then he punched me in the face, and yelled
“KRIS KRINGLE RULES!”
And with a mouthful of blood I garbled “have a cool yule…”

He dashed out the lot without even a jingle,
I had an altercation with a food truck Kris Kringle

The police weren’t notified, lawyers weren’t called,
To whom would I report that I had been mauled?

Surely the elves have their own justice system,
They wouldn’t allow this event to get past ’em

Then he kicked me in the shin, and yelled, “SAINT NICHOLAS RULES!!”
And while skulking away said, “environmental health drools…”

I had a Christmas altercation with a food truck Kris Kringle,
Who then dashed out the lot without even a jingle.

 

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hi Jason, long time reader…Love the show. I have a question I’m hoping you will be able to help me with. I have twin boys, and they LOVE Count Chocula and Franken Berry! I have recently heard about raw milk becoming more available in North Carolina, and I’m wondering if the use of raw milk on my boys’ cereal will help to give them a more complete breakfast. What can you tell me about the safety of raw milk?
-Sloan

 

A

Hi Sloan! That’s a great question, and such a timely one!
As a fan of the monster breakfast cereals myself, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least put in a good word for Boo Berry, and of course my personal favorite, Yummy Mummy. And who could leave out the oft-forgotten Fruit Brute?!?
There is a whole world of delicious cereals out there that my parents would not let me have, and I am making up for it now that I’m all grown up. So what if I pour chocolate milk on Cocoa Krispies?!? You’re not the boss of me!!
Anyway, let’s get to that pesky raw milk stuff.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Self, what’s the big deal with raw milk? Isn’t if full of healthy proteins and immunoglobulins and other big words that make it better for me?!?” Well, that’s kind of a tricky question. Raw milk does have proteins and enzymes and vitamins that are somewhat destroyed or diminished by pasteurization. Now, if I were to stop talking here, all the raw milk proponents would be very happy. However, the truth is most of the nutrients that are destroyed or diminished are those that we find in other foods anyway. So for example, Vitamin C is one of the nutrients in raw milk that is effected by pasteurization. But, I’m not drinking milk for Vitamin C. I get my daily allowance of Vitamin C from foods like citrus fruits, juices, and those delicious fortified monster cereals. Pasteurization is not something to be afraid of. It has saved countless lives, and has made more foods safe for the general consumption. It was originally developed to make milk safer. I mean, it’s whole purpose of being, is to make milk safe! It’s just like applying heat to any other raw protein. Ideally, you apply just enough to kill the harmful bacteria, and then you get to enjoy that prime cut ribeye! Pasteurization is, in effect, simply cooking the raw milk until safe. That’s it! Now with all that being said, there are those of us who believe that minimal processing of food is better or healthier. And truthfully, it probably is for some foods.
I mean, a glass of orange juice is just not the same as a tall, cold glass of Tang, BUT, in the case of raw milk or pasteurized milk, the evidence is pretty clear that less people get sick from pasteurized milk than raw. The numbers don’t lie.

So how does all the bad stuff get into the milk in the first place? Let’s put this in perspective…my wife and I have a newborn daughter. My wife produces “raw breast milk”. That’s fine. It’s great for our daughters immune system and overall well-being. However, I would be upset if she went to our local tractor-pull, participated in the community mud-wrestling event, then came back home and breast fed our daughter without taking a shower. It’s not the milk I’m worried about, it’s the mud, feces, spit, blood, pus, and general uncleanliness that would be all over my wife’s body… In truth, Rachael hasn’t been to a mud wrestling event since before she was pregnant, but she is anxious to get back at it…

You might say, “Well Jason, I know people who have been drinking raw milk for years, and they’ve never been sick one time!” The truth here is that there is no way to predict when raw milk is safe or not. The facts are that raw milk does contain some bacteria that can make you sick. Unfortunately, no matter how sanitary a milk processing facility is, there is just no guarantee that harmful bacteria will not get into the milk. Will it ALWAYS make you sick? Maybe not, but who wants to risk that?
And how do you know that those people have never been sick? People react to things differently sometimes, and not every bout of diarrhea will be reported as a foodborne illness. In summary, like most things in life, this is a decision that each individual will have to make. I can’t tell you that every gallon of raw milk is always bad, and I can’t tell you it is always safe. But I would encourage anyone who is interested in potentially drinking or providing raw milk to their family to do a little research, and find out the gist, before you ingest….
Stay safe, friends.

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Bro…Got a question about eggs. What’s the deal with that whole recall thing? I’ve got chickens and I only eat eggs that come from my backyard. Should I be worried? What are some things I should be concerned about as a small chicken farmer?
-Eric

 

A

Hey Eric, really great question. We have heard a lot about the recent egg recall lately, and for good reason. In a nutshell (*egg shell*?), federal inspectors found pretty gruesome conditions at a large commercial egg farm in North Carolina. When I say large, I’m talking about 2.3 MILLION eggs a day. That’s a big omelet. Some of the violations noted in federal inspectors reports include: Dead and live rodents, accumulation of water on floors (doesn’t sound like a big deal, but in this kind of facility, where large amounts of manure are present, standing water provides a nice petri dish for pathogens to grow and multiply), water on equipment, employees being less than savory with their personal hygiene, and employees not following standard operating procedures. Now, if you are a regular reader of my articles, you are probably pretty familiar with the risk based inspection. The risk based inspection is what your local health inspectors conduct when they evaluate and grade a restaurant, and federal inspections are similar in that they focus on factors that are more likely to contribute to illness before they look at other things like floors, walls, and ceilings.

So the egg recall was due, largely, to the sanitation (or lack of ) of the facility and mishandling of eggs and equipment by employees, resulting in a 206 million egg recall. Now, I’m not trying to be *neggative* here, but that’s a lot of bad eggs. Of course, Salmonella is the organism of concern here, and it only needs an opportunity to move from the chickens to equipment to employees and right back to the eggs. Salmonella causes the appropriately named disease, salmonellosis, and just so you don’t have the check your*hencyclopedia*, salmonellosis causes the usual flu like symptoms associated with food borne illness and is particularly harmful to the young and elderly. Usually, the only *tweetment* needed is fluids to avoid dehydration. As of this writing, 35 people have been affected in 9 states. Several of those 35 have been hospitalized, but so far, none have died. “So Jason…” you are probably asking, “…if salmonella is already around chickens and eggs, why is this recall in place?” Well that’s a good point. Let’s talk about that for second. Salmonella is naturally occurring and lives in the intestinal tracts of birds, and is transmitted through feces. Now I’m not a chicken farmer, but it’s pretty easy to realize that eggs move through the same passageway feces moves through. I’m not going to get into the biology of things here, but salmonella can also live in the ovaries of chickens, so that sometimes, even as the egg is being formed, it can become contaminated. There are several safety procedures in place at large farms. The USDA requires that the eggs be washed to remove fecal material before packaging. This helps to ensure that the fecal material carrying the bacteria can be removed from the egg before being presented to the consumer. The FDA requires that a pest control plan be put into place as well as biosecurity measures that would limit the visitors to the facility , and would also prevent employees from taking birds home with them, (and subsequently naming them things like, “Hen Solo”, and “Cluck Norris”). The issue here is that even after all the safety procedures are in place, if you let a little rat climb across your egg cartons or packaging material, or say an employee has an itch in an area that may not be the cleanest, and then doesn’t wash his hands, well, you’ve just re-contaminated your whole supply.

So why can’t you just cook the bejesus out of these things and avoid the recall problem altogether? Well, maybe you could, but that means that you would have to make no mistakes…I’m talking zero (0)mistakes while handling and preparing these eggs. You would have to make sure you cooked them to at least 160 degrees every time, and the possibility of cross contamination here is insanely high! Everywhere you put those eggs, you literally (not figuratively) have placed salmonella. I’m talking, hands, counter, keys, car seat, everything! Now I believe you when you say that your kitchen is cleaner than any restaurant in town, and you should ALWAYS treat raw proteins like they are infected with everything known to man, but the fact remains that the CDC estimates that only one in 20,000 eggs is INTERNALLY contaminated with salmonella. Notice, how I put that INTERNALLY in big letters. That’s because I want you to understand that this recall is due to salmonella on the outside of the shell. My point is, that even though you have a super clean Gordon Ramsey kitchen, the eggs themselves are already pretty safe most of the time due to the precautions by the FDA and the USDA. But if you KNEW that those eggs had been scientifically proven to have salmonella all over them, wouldn’t it just be easier to throw them away and buy some new ones? Wouldn’t even be a question at my house. I’d throw eggs away like it was my job if I knew there was salmonella creepily crawling all over them.

So let’s talk about some issues that can occur on small farms, and why you should at least be aware of some conditions before buying those eggs that were advertised on the sign nailed to the light post beside the stop sign with the red painted letters that say “FRESH EGGS, $4.99, THIS-A-WAY –>”.

In 2017, there were 1,120 cases of salmonella across 48 states that were found to be directly associated with backyard chicken flocks. Now remember, in large egg processing facilities, safety precautions are in effect to assure that eggs are maintained in good, safe condition. Of course, as noted above, if those precautions are ignored, then havoc can ensue. How many precautions do you think Bubbas Egg Farm has in place? I can pretty conclusively tell you that Bubba has zero precautions in place. I realize that Bubbas chickens are the prettiest, nicest, birds you have ever seen, and they have the cutest names like Ruth Bader Hens-burg, and Nancy Reag-hen, but the fact remains that Bubba is going out there, stomping through the mud and manure, shoo-ing those birds out of the way, grabbing a dozen or so eggs with those big mitts of his, and chunking them down in an old Earth Fare egg carton with the label half torn off, and bringing them back in to you, the customer. He is going to tell you he’s been in the bird “bid-ness” for 35 years and has never been sick, and that “heck, a little chicken manure makes you grow up good and strong”. Let me tell you right now, chicken manure will NOT make you grow up good and strong. Do yourself a favor, and take a look around at the chickens before you make a purchase. (Watch your kids! Don’t let them go over there and snuggle up with Meryl Cheep and Hennifer Lopez!) Is their coop neat and clean? Are the birds well taken care of? Is there manure all over the place? Is Bubba washing his hands? Are the eggs collected on a regular basis? If you do decide to take some money out of your savings or *chicken account* and make a purchase, take your eggs home and brush them off a little if needed. Don’t wash them…cold water can make the shells contract and pull bacteria inside the egg. Don’t try to keep a cracked egg. Throw it away. And finally, remember to cook your eggs thoroughly.
Salmonellosis is no yolk…
Now to end, a few chicken jokes:

-What do you call a coop full of jumping chickens?
–Poultry in motion

-Why did the chicken cross the road?
–To get to the other side (of the road)

-Why did the chicken cross the road?
–To get to the other side (in a metaphysical sense, the other side of life.)

-What do you call a ghost chicken?
–A poultrygeist

-Why does a chicken coop have 2 doors?
–Because if it had 4 doors, it would be a chicken sedan.

 

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hey Buddy, as the NC Mountain state fair approaches, my family and I have been wondering, “what is the number one thing that makes you question whether or not to eat at a food vendor at the fair?” I am planning on taking my grandkids, and I want to make sure I choose the safest fried turkey leg vendor.
-Jim W.

 

A

Hi Jim, thanks for writing in. That’s a great question, and perfect timing for the upcoming fair. Also, I’ll bet you didn’t know that September is Food Safety Awareness Month! Now for us “in the biz”, every month is food safety awareness month, but it’s great that we have a special time of the year dedicated specifically to food safety. You know, I see a lot of food prep, and I see a lot of violations. Lots of things make me cringe, but there IS one thing that shakes me to the core…

But before I can answer that question, you have to understand a little about what a health inspector does at the fair, and how a food vendor inspection works. It’s a little like a Quantum Leap episode…We leap from booth to booth, putting things right, and hoping each time that our next leap will be our last… (Oh Boy…) When we go to the fair, our initial visits are to issue each food vendor a temporary food event (TFE) permit. Before we will issue that permit though, a laundry list of items have to be in place, including food thermometers, sanitizer, ability to wash, rinse and sanitize equipment, hair restraints, handwashing stations, hot and cold holding equipment, and the ability to store food where it will not be tampered with. Those permits are required to be displayed in the vendors booth. I know that if I see that permit, then at least the basic requirements have been met, so that is the first thing I look for when choosing which crinkle fries booth I visit. Next, I look at employee hygiene. Now don’t get me wrong, I love to see a simple grilled cheese sandwich slapped together with mounds of butter and thrown on the grill, but if the person doing the slapping isn’t wearing gloves, I stop right there. I am always astonished that bare hand contact with ready to eat food still occurs. Bare hand contact with ready to eat food is the number one thing that grosses me out. Now, you might say, “But Jason, you’ve been to my house several times when I’ve cooked and I touch food all the time! You’ve never said a word about it!” Well, Jim, that’s true, but you aren’t selling food to the public, you aren’t employing a kitchen full of people that may or may not be sick and are only coming to work because they need the paycheck, you are pretty good about washing your hands, and you aren’t sick.
Alright, now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about what bare hand contact really means. Obviously, it means no contact with ready to eat foods without the use of gloves, utensils, or some other barrier. What is not said so much, is the organisms that we are trying to prevent. Now, I’m a health inspector, not a microbiologist, so I’m not going to get into the whole gram positive, gram negative, rod, flagella thing. That stuff is for identification. It’s important, but that’s not what I’m here for. I’m concerned with where these little buggers are going to grow, and what they are going to do to you. Bare hand contact with ready to eat food is the prime vector for pathogens that rely on the fecal-oral routes of transmission. We’ve talked about that before in previous articles, so I’m just going to lay it out here… Fecal-oral routes of transmission mean that you eat some amount of a pathogen that was shed in someone’s (or something’s) feces. Its gross, but it’s just that simple.
You may remember me talking in previous articles about the “Big 5” foodborne pathogens. Now there’s not going to be a quiz about this, but a good way to remember the Big 5 is to use the acronym *HENSS*.
-Hepatitis
-E. Coli
-Norovirus
-Salmonella
-Shigella
Now you are probably wondering, “What’s so special about these 5? There are hundreds of pathogens that can make me sick!” That’s true, but these 5 share some common traits. They all can make you sick from low doses, they all infect your gut after you eat them, and they are all shed in feces.
So, why does bare hand contact with ready to eat food make me stop on a dime? BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR HANDS HAVE BEEN! Did that guy wash his hands after coming out of the Port-A-John? Most of the ones I’ve seen don’t have sinks built in. Did he wash his hands before chunking those beef patties between those two Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts? Did that sweet old lady wash before she so lovingly pulled that bacon wrapped corn out of the fryer? What about that dude selling the pickle dogs? (It’s a hollowed out pickle with a hot dog shoved inside and then, of course, deep fried…) Did he wash before he slathered that dog in mustard and handed it over with a side of six feet of ribbon fries?
So to answer your question Jim, bare hand contact is the number one thing I look for when choosing where to eat. And I don’t just mean at the fair. Take a good look around the restaurants you visit, and make sure you are getting safe food. If you see someone touching the food that you are about to eat, think twice, and remember what we have discussed today. That fecal-oral thing is no joke.
Stay safe, and enjoy the fair!

-Big 5 (HENSS)

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hi Jason, quick question. Can you tell me about gravy? Why should I *Be Serious* about food safety when it comes to gravy? The gravy is my family’s favorite part of the meal, and with Thanksgiving coming up, I’d really like to know more about how to make the best and safest gravy for my perfectly roasted turkey.
-Paul
 

A

Happy Thanksgiving Paul! You know, this is a question that I always get asked this time of year. Everybody wants to know the secret ingredient to making a great gravy. Well, I want you know that I have that secret, and I’ll be happy to share it with you guys. You know, gravy is the thing people remember, and the thing people get upset about when it’s gone. It doesn’t matter what you’ve got on your plate, if there is gravy available, you pour it on. You pour that gravy on EVERYTHING. “Boy, you get some gravy on that plate!” my dad would command… “But Dad, its chocolate chip pecan pie…” I’d respond. “Don’t you sass me, boy!” And THAT’S how I learned to love and appreciate gravy. True story.
Now another thing you need to know is the difference between a gravy and a sauce. Gravy IS a sauce, and most of the gravies we are familiar with are actually just derivatives of one of the 5 classic French sauces. So the real difference between a gravy and a sauce is simply cultural semantics. In some applications, we call it a gravy, as in “biscuits and gravy”, other times it’s a sauce, as in “spaghetti sauce”. The one thing that all the sauces have in common (well, except one) is the use of a roux. A roux is just flour and a fat cooked together to form a paste. Once you have that down, the rest is easy. Now you don’t really need to know all the classic French “mother” sauces, but if you are really interested, you can find them here [https://guide.michelin.com/hk/en/hong-kong-macau/dining-in/the-5-mother-sauces-of-french-cuisine/news]

For the purposes of this article, (and for the purposes of Thanksgiving, duh…) we are going to focus on the Veloute sauce. Its super basic and super easy once you know the secret. It’s starts as just your basic roux. In this case, we get our fat from the drippings (or “drippins” as I like to call them) from the roasted turkey, and mix it with the flour to form that paste we talked about earlier. Then we add some stock, and BOOM, we got gravy. Seriously that simple.
So if it’s so easy to make, then why am I talking about it? What’s the food safety issue here? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s a little bacteria known as Bacillus Cereus (or B. Cereus…see what I did there?) and it wants to hang around your thanksgiving gravy like your weird uncle who keeps dipping his fingers into everything… (You know who you are…). Bacillus Cereus likes the warm, comfy feel of a gravy blanket, and honestly, who wouldn’t? It is naturally found in the environment, and is a spore former that is pretty good at resisting hot and cold temperatures. So how do you keep this little guy at bay? Easy! Keep your gravy hot! Hot holding temperatures in restaurants are at least 135 degrees F for all food products. No exception for home use. You don’t have to keep it boiling, but a nice, even heat will keep that delicious gravy safe. Remember, nobody likes tepid gravy except Bacillus Cereus, and he wasn’t even invited! If you want to make your gravy ahead of time, (which, let’s be honest, is a great idea, but nobody ever does that) just make sure to cool your gravy properly, and refrigerate at correct temperatures. Remember, we talked about thawing turkeys last year and how much time it takes…(24 hours for every 4 pounds of bird)…so you are going to be limited on space in your otherwise empty fridge. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your gravy on the counter because you have 14 different casseroles in there. When it’s time to reheat that gravy, just make sure it comes up to at least 165 degrees, and then holds at 135 or above. How are you going to know what temperature it is? Use your meat thermometer! I know you already have it set out to use on your turkey…right? Obviously you remember the final cook temperature for turkey…no reason for me to mention that turkey needs to reach 165 degrees to be safe. No reason for me to remind you that if you have stuffing in that bird, that stuffing needs to reach 165 degrees, too…

So, as promised, here is the secret to a great thanksgiving gravy (or Veloute)…The secret ingredient is not an ingredient, it’s a measurement. This is where a lot of people mess it up, but all you have to remember is this…(mostly) equal parts flour and fat. Simple as that. A good amount of gravy is about 4 cups. I mean, that’s good enough for most families; that should take care of about 10 or so people. Not my family…we need about one cup per person. But that’s beside the point. Cook your fat and flour together until nice and brown, about 5 tablespoons of each. The color of your final gravy is correlated to the color of your roux, so if you like a nice, light gravy, just cook your roux until its lightly browned. If you like a deeper, richer gravy, cook it until it’s a little darker. Cooking it longer will also take out the slightly raw taste of the flour. Now one thing to keep in mind… If you don’t have enough fat from your drippings, you can either substitute butter, or add butter until you have equal amounts. Won’t hurt a thing. When you have reached your desired color, start slowly adding your stock. You will need about 4 cups or so. Whisk continuously, and bring to a boil. This is important. The boil is the kill step in the process. E. Coli can survive in dry flour, so don’t skip that step! After the boil, reduce to a simmer and taste. Toss in some salt and pepper if you need to, or throw in a sprig of thyme or sage. If you feel fancy, splash in some white wine. Congratulations! You just made a French sauce! Brag about to your family about how you are an international chef!

Have a great Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

By Jason Masters
     Environmental Health Director

Image of Thinking Health Inspector

 

 


A

Q:

Hey Jason, just a quick question about the upcoming pool season. I have two little girls and they love to swim! At my neighborhood pool, I have noticed some rather unsavory guests, whom I believe may be *ahem* urinating in the pool during their swim. This is ATROCIOUS! I can’t believe any person in their right mind would even CONSIDER urinating in a public pool! Someone needs to teach these heathens a lesson! Can you tell me something to ease my mind?
-Ashley

 

 

A

Uhhhhh, hi Ashley…I mean, you’re right (I guess)…wow….I mean, personally I never….I mean…let’s just get to your question….

So, you want to keep the “P” out of your pool (“ool…”?)
I get it. No one wants to go swimming in a dirty pool, and we’ve all heard the rumors about how if you smell a strong chlorine smell there must be a lot of urine in the pool (*SPOILER ALERT*-it’s not just a rumor…). But that’s a different article. Today, let’s just talk about the actual amount of urine in a pool, and what that means for us.

Take a good look around any pool during the summer and you’re going to see all kinds of people. From week old babies to 99 year old lap swimmers, the pool is one of the most popular spots on nice, warm, sunny days. And, let’s be real, sometimes mother nature strikes when we feel that cool water on our pasty white winter bodies. Its natural. In fact, I did some research for you guys to see just how much we need to be worried about swimming in other peoples pee-pee.

Alright, let’s take a look at an average sized swimming pool. Let’s say a 15′ X 30′, that’s pretty average, right? Ok, just for arguments sake, we’ll say it’s 8′ deep on the deep end, and 3′ deep on the shallow side. That’s going to give us a total of 18,513 gallons of water. Ok, you’re with me so far, right? According to the NC swimming pool rules, the maximum bather load for a pool this size is 24 people. That’s not too bad. Stay with me… Now, according to different sources, the average person urinates a total of 5 to 6 times a day, for a total of between 800 and 2000 milliliters per day of urine. That’s kind of a big range, so let’s agree to split the difference and say 1400 milliliters. 1400 milliliters is 47 ounces. That gives us 47 ounces of urine per day, per person. Heck, that’s just a little over 2 pints! You probably drink more than that at lunch (not that you’re drinking urine for lunch, but you know what I mean…) SO, let’s assume our 24 people are all in the pool at the same time, and spontaneously decide to release their total amount of urine for the day. (We don’t really need to know why they would decide, or even be able, to do this… maybe they are just really in tune with their bodies, that’s something we should all aspire to… doesn’t matter for the purposes of this article though) That’s still only 1,128 ounces of urine! That’s about 141 cups, which is roughly 8.8 gallons of urine that just got released. Sounds pretty gross, right? Well, let’s look at this way…8.8 gallons out of 18,513 gallons is only 0.047%!! We’re talking less than 1/10th of one percent! That’s not so bad, right?
Why, based on the FDA action plans for some common household foods, I’d say it’s almost safer to take a swim than to eat a jar of peanut butter! Don’t believe me? Check this out…The FDA “defect action levels” (that means how much is allowed before action is taken) for a 16 ounce jar of peanut better allow an average of 1 rodent hair per 100 grams…100 grams equals about 3.5 ounces, so 454 grams equals about 16 ounces. That means it’s perfectly allowable for approximately 4.5 rodent hairs to be in that jar of your favorite PB. OR… an average of 30 or more insect parts per 100 grams…so roughly 135 insect parts per jar. Man! There’s a lot of math in this article! (#wedidthemath) YUM! Enjoy that PB&J! You can read (or not) more about the FDA action plans here… https://www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/ucm056174.htm Remember though, ignorance is bliss. You have been warned.

But that’s not why we are here today. I’ll save that stuff for another article.
Let’s talk about what’s going on down there at the bottom of the pool with those drains. Take a look at the bottom of the pool and you are either going to see one, or two drain covers. Now, if you don’t see any drain covers down there, and it just looks like a big hole…Get. Out. Of. The. Pool! Those drain covers do more than just look pretty (and let’s be honest, none of them are really that great looking). So here’s what you need to know. A single drain pool is exactly what it sounds like… one main drain at the bottom of the pool. So what difference does that make? Well it means that the pump is only pulling water out of that one hole, and therefore has an incredible suction. These are the kind of drains where kids (and grown-ups!) get stuck. Not to overstate the obvious here, but GETTING STUCK ON A DRAIN IS VERY VERY BAD!! Now, a pool with 2 drains (more than 3′ apart) is a little safer in that in the event that someone does get close enough to get stuck, the presence of the additional drain allows for less suction per drain. Pools are safer now than they were even 10 years ago, with advancements in drain cover design and the inclusion of safety vacuum release systems that sense when a single drain cover is blocked and will automatically shut off the pump, but suction hazards can be present in all pools and parents should NEVER let children play in or around swimming pools without adult supervision. So what should you look for before cannon-balling in? First and foremost, the water itself. Swimming pool water should be clear enough that you can easily see the drains. If you jump in the pool and notice that you can’t see your Spiderman aqua socks, you should get out of the pool. Next, the drains and drain covers. Make sure the drains have covers that aren’t broken or cracked, and are securely attached to the pool floor. If you see a single drain, ask someone in charge if there is a safety vacuum release system in place that is checked regularly. Make sure there are no uncovered holes in the sides of the pool. Some holes are return inlets, where the water is placed back in the pool after going through a filter and usually a chlorine treatment, and maybe a heater, but no holes should ever be uncovered. Even a small hole can present a suction hazard to hands, hair, or anything else. Make sure you are familiar with the location of the life-saving equipment and the emergency phone. They should all be accessible and in good repair. Don’t bring glass bottles into the pool enclosure, and leave your sweet little Jack Russel terrier at home. Lastly, follow the pool rules. They’re right there on the sign! Read them!
Do yourself a favor…Right after you get to the pool and put your Gremlins (Don’t feed them after midnight!) beach towel down on that chair with the plastic strands that have been baking in the hot sun all day (you know the kind I’m talking about), and while Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Walk on the Ocean” is playing on the teenagers radio, do a quick walk around the pool and take note of a few things. Better safe than sorry.
Have a great summer everyone!