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A new year often brings news laws, rules and regulations. And that will ring true on Jan. 1 for restaurants in Wilson and throughout North Carolina.
While the current cold-holding standard for restaurants is 45 degrees, the new standard will require restaurants to drop to 41 degrees. That means items such as potato salad, chicken salad or anything that needs to be on ice or refrigerated cannot exceed 41 degrees, health officials said.
“It will be an adjustment period for the restaurant industry,” said Angela Manning, director of environmental health at the Wilson County Health Department. That 41-degree standard will be enforced for all inspections after the new year.
“It affects everything from high school concession stands to food trucks to the hot dog cart to your large full-scale, full-service restaurant. It is every food service we regulate,” Manning said.
Wilson County currently has 329 food service establishments.
Officials said when North Carolina adopted the federal food code in 2012, restaurants were given six years to make any equipment changes to be able to achieve 41 degrees, which is the federal standard.
The difference in temperature is vital in preventing illness.
“We know that listeria, which is our pathogen of concern for ready-to-eat cold-holding items, will grow at temperatures between 42 and 45 degrees,” Manning said. “They are going to grow very slowly, but the risk is still there.”
She said restaurants complying with this federal standard will help with prevention.
Manning said health officials have been telling local food service establishments about the upcoming change for at least a year now to prepare them. She said they’ve also had the information printed on inspection sheets.
“It will be a big learning curve for the operators,” Manning said.
Manning said her staff understands the change will be difficult for some. And because of that, restaurant operators will be given a one-inspection grace period.
“They will get an inspection where if they are not compliant, they will not receive a reduction in their grade,” she said. Environmental health services will talk with owners about processes, evaluate their equipment and work with them to find out why they’re not in compliance with the 41-degree standard.
After the first inspection, restaurants would receive a deduction of a minimum of 1½ points on their inspection grade.
Consecutive inspections without compliance would result in full credit deductions.
Manning said inspectors have found that for operators it’s not necessarily equipment that’s the problem with maintaining that 41 degrees — it’s processes.
“Sometimes there are very easy fixes to get to 41 degrees,” she said.
WORKING WITH ESTABLISHMENTS
Manning said health officials don’t want restaurants to think come Jan. 2, they’re going to walk in and make them throw away every piece of food they have if they are out of compliance.
“We will work with them as much as we can,” she said. “And we want them to work with us.”
Manning said most corporate franchise restaurants are already at the 41-degree standard.
“This is more of the mom and pops, independent establishments who are not as familiar with 41 degrees,” she said. “But your franchise establishments that are national chains, they’re already familiar with their corporate standard of 41 degrees if not lower.”