Among our roles to better protect the community’s health, the health department employs staff to help ensure the proper handling of food served to the public. The Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts’ (RCAHD) Environmental Health Food Program works with restaurant operators to reduce risk factors associated with foodborne illnesses. The program covers various facilities, including restaurants and mobile food units, as well as the food services of schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other vendors that provide prepared food to the public. In 2022, RCAHD issued 1072 food permits for both new and established vendors.
RCAHD employs eight environmental health specialists whose primary job is specifically food inspections. All food service facilities in our seven jurisdictions (Alleghany, Botetourt, Covington, Craig, Roanoke City and County, and Salem) are inspected at least once per year and many are inspected more often, depending on their food preparation methods or on the vulnerability of the populations they serve. When needed, our team also performs follow-up inspections for those facilities with excessive numbers of violations or with violations that are deemed a high priority (for example, establishments with failing refrigeration or nonfunctioning dishwashing capabilities).
In 2022, our staff performed over 2,000 food service inspections of both yearly permitted facilities and over 60 temporary food events, such as festivals. During inspections, our team members review policies with staff. These include the requirement to have an Employee Health Policy to help prevent ill food service workers from possibly contaminating food or food-contact surfaces. Excellent employee hygiene, especially proper handwashing, is vital in preventing foodborne illness.
Health regulations for food establishments typically require at least one person in a supervisory or management position to be a Certified Food Protection Manager (CFPM). The CFPM program educates managers to ensure that their employees follow proper food safety guidelines. Our inspectors act as trainers too, assisting staff to safely operate their establishments in accordance with Virginia Department of Health (VDH) food regulations. While our goal is to prevent foodborne illness, our environmental health team plays a critical role in assisting in any investigation of potential foodborne illness outbreaks.
Foodborne illness is a common, yet preventable public health matter. What can you do to safeguard your family’s health when eating out or eating at home? Consider these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Before going to a restaurant, check the restaurant’s health inspection score at inspections.myhealthdepartment.com/virginia
Confirm the cleanliness of the restaurant’s tables, floors, and utensils. If they do not appear clean, you may want to take your business elsewhere.
Both in restaurants and at home, check that your food is thoroughly cooked. Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs should be cooked thoroughly to kill germs. If food is served undercooked or raw, send it back.
Properly handle your leftovers. Taking your food to go? Remember to refrigerate within two hours of eating out. If food is left in a hot car or temperatures above 90ºF, refrigerate it within one hour. Eat leftovers within three or four days.
And finally, always make sure you wash your hands before touching any ready-to-eat food!
-Christie Wills, communications officer
Roanoke City & Alleghany Health Districts