“It’s very hard to clean that crack because we can get food residue building up in there,” Andy Hirneisen said as he drew a picture of a square sink.
Hirneisen is a former restaurant inspector who later became a food safety educator for Penn State Extension. He teaches a ServSafe course, which gives restaurant supervisors the legally-required proof that they’ve been educated about and passed an exam on food safety.
The certification isn’t a one-time thing; it’s up for renewal every five years.
“It’s not about being a germophobe,” Hirneisen said. “It’s about looking at the science and what we can do to protect ourselves against foodborne illness.”
The course covers a variety of topics, including pest control, handwashing procedures, food temperatures, and food storage. Even violations that don’t sound serious can lead to big problems.
“So if we have ground beef and lettuce that we’re storing in a refrigerator, we want to store the lettuce on top of the ground beef,” Hirneisen said. “That way, if there’s any ground beef juice that drips out of the container, it doesn’t fall down on the lettuce and contaminate that.”
It’s not just about food preparation; equipment can also lead to involuntary contamination. For example, floor-mounted equipment must be kept six inches off the floor. The regulation is designed to ensure it is easy to clean underneath equipment and to prevent pests from taking shelter.
Leti Ro oversees a food establishment in Cumberland County. She’s taking the ServSafe course for re-certification.
“People don’t realize that you can even apply this at home,” Ro said. “Especially when it comes to safety and sanitation and foodborne illness. There’s a lot of picnics going on right now and people don’t realize that keeping that macaroni salad out for awhile at higher temperature may make a lot of people sick.”
With the frequent publication of state inspections, such as ABC27’s Restaurant Reports, local establishments are under more scrutiny. But Hirneisen says he doesn’t want people to be scared to go out to eat.
“Of course, if you see something happen at a restaurant or you read a report and the restaurant is struggling a little bit to catch up, that may be something to consider,” Hirneisen said. “But overall, people do tend to do a pretty good job.”
Penn State Extension offers other courses that can be applied to home food safety. For more details, visit extension.psu.edu.