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Wednesday, June 29, 2011



It's almost here!  In July the Food Safety Law, otherwise known as SB 602, goes into effect. That, however, is not the most fascinating piece of news in this particular state-wide story. What's disturbing is: practically no one knows about it.

According to the new edict, all food service employees, must take and pass the California Food Handler Training test by July 1, 2011. Not only is the date already here, most restaurants don't even know such a law has come into being.

As July unfolds, it appears there may be a whole new herd of criminals. If you look,  you'll see a profusion of restaurant owners and their employees breaking the new law, named "SB 602," or "The California Food Handler Card Law." And with good reason. For the most part, restaurants, at least in San Francisco, apparently haven’t even been officially notified.

Did you know about this? The bill was signed into law six months ago, goes into force this month, and requires California restaurant employees must now take the mandatory training in food safety.

Food Safety doesn't mean they're trying to avoid cruelty or accidental injury to a Harris steak or Cobb Salad. It's aimed at protecting your digestive system.

While it’s a law for which anyone would most probably show strong approval, its lack of an official announcement signals weak intention. And nervous food workers.

The few who have heard about it are feeling a range of emotions from perturbation to full tilt anxiety as they learn they are each expected to pay a tuition, take the course, and pass it. Then, when they win their Food Handler Safety Card, good for three years, it must be secured in their employers' file.

Most in the food industry know nothing about this, but the minority of employees that do, are clambering to find the two-hour, $15 test, hoping to meet the deadline.

Readers of this blog may have a few questions of their own.

Why, for example, there are still hundreds of places that haven’t heard about the new law? Or the test? Or where to take it?

Why, also, do you suppose, is the new Food Handler Safety Card Law course offered only in two languages - English or Spanish? At this writing, employees who speak only Chinese, for example, are pretty much out of the food service loop for now. Why is that? Does the Health Department assume only certain races qualify for this kind of food safety?

Or is this one of those deals that wasn't properly thought out?

And how will this new unpublicized ruling be enforced? Well, that will be the task of the county health departments, who are responsible for notifying restaurants of the laws and consequent penalties for noncompliance. One imagines a task force, dressed in California gold and brown jumpsuits, converging on suspected eateries, rounding up all the employees and giving them a good soap and water lathering.

Seriously, how can a law be enforced when no one knows about it? I mean, other than cramming that tired old saw, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse," down our pie holes. That's not what we chose from the menu...

Who's in charge here, anyway? Reportedly, the Public information officer Eileen Shields, hadn’t even heard of our new law.

But the Director of Environmental Health Regulatory Programs, Richard Lee, has. He's been meeting with other directors around the state, trying to untangle the wording of the law and thus make it viable. He says "don't panic." Not just yet, anyway.

Lee says his department has not yet apprised any restaurants, as our lawmakers stall the passage of SB 303, in an attempt to clean up the language in the previously written rules. He says his department doesn’t plan to enforce the law until next year; he will send out information in September.

So, remember to wash your hands before chowing down. Eventually the Direstor and his staff WILL start enforcing the law.

The punishment for noncompliance after the Food Handler Law finally does go into effect in another seven months? “I don’t think there will be a fine,” Director of Environmental Health Regulatory Programs, Lee says. (Wanna bet, says I?) “We’ll just note it as a violation.” If the restaurants still don’t comply, the department will take away their health permit to operate.

And force them to scrub behind their fingernails and ears.

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