By Dr. Francisco Garcia
Last month, local food retail establishments and community members joined together with the Pima County Health Department to elevate food handling practices through the adoption of the 2013 US Food and Drug Administration Food Codes.
This community is blessed to have a wide variety of delicious culinary options to satisfy any craving. Be it while we are attending the Tucson Meet Yourself event, enjoying a sit down meal or grabbing a quick bite in the middle of busy day, the last thing anyone should need to worry about is if the food is safe to eat.
In addition to adopting the new codes, the Board of Supervisors also approved the implementation of a health code fee schedule. The new schedule provides a structure for health inspection services provided by the Health Department’s Consumer Health and Food Safety program to move from being funded by tax payer dollars to being paid by the businesses who utilize the services. It also supports a paperless system that is more responsive to our food vendors and establishments and reduces waiting periods between inspections.
This new fee schedule will be implemented gradually over a five-year period allowing our food vendors and establishments time to plan for pending fee increases. In the first year, fixed and mobile food establishments will not have a fee impact. After the first year, annual permit fees will increase by 25 percent and each year the percentage will go up until the fee matches the total cost recovery fee for the permit type.
In an effort to continue promoting health in our county, beginning in 2018, food vendors and establishments can offset some of the fees by as much as 25 percent by adopting some healthy incentive practices in their menu and food preparation process. For example, our food vendors and establishments will receive a discount if they have written procedures in place that include staff training and daily monitoring of risk factors, or take steps to eliminate Trans fats in their food. Additional incentives include displaying caloric count for items listed on the menu, and participating in the food bank assistance program.
These changes were not implemented without input from the community and our food industry leaders who are in support of these adopted fee and code modifications. Health Department staff held open public meetings and posted information and updates to the County website to gather feedback and concerns presented by the community. The approach being implemented is a result of these collaborations and focused intent to elevate food handling practices as well as strengthen efforts to reduce the chance of becoming ill after dining out.
Food is a big thing here in Pima County. I have many memories of celebrating life special moments over a delicious meal at one of our many local establishments. Knowing that food vendors and establishments maintain a strong partnership with the Health Department reassures me of their commitment to not only provide a delicious meal but to also take steps that protect our health and wellbeing.