The Certified Food Safety Manager, Who’s Minding the Kitchen?

KK Snyder

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Are you one of those people that pours over the weekly restaurant inspection reports on, hoping your favorite spot to nosh gets a clean bill of health? If so, you’ve likely wondered just what the heck a “certified food safety manager” is and why so many local restaurants are cited for not having one on staff.

About two years ago, the State of Georgia began requiring restaurants to have a certified food safety manager – or CFSM - a staff member trained in food safety through one of three nationally-recognized programs. When routine inspections are conducted by the local Environmental Health Department, a “person in charge” is required to be on site, said Jim Pericaud, director of Environmental Health based in Albany.

“That may or may not be the (certified) food safety manger, but it needs to be someone knowledgeable about food safety,” said Pericaud. “So the manger is responsible for making sure the person in charge has a basic knowledge of food safety.”

Restaurants are responsible for seeking out one of the three approved courses and having an employee attend the training. A comprehensive class, the two-day course focuses a lot on food handling – the flow of food through the restaurant, critical control points where food has the highest danger of becoming contaminated, etc.

“One of the things the new rules emphasize is getting away from the floors, walls and ceilings inspections and more toward risk-based inspections,” explained Pericaud. “Things such as how food is being prepared and whether there are any weaknesses in that system.

“Yes, it’s important to have clean floors, but dirty floors don’t make people sick.”

Among the potential food hazards in restaurants are food temperatures, correct chilling process for food and initial cooking and reheating processes. The greatest potential for risk is during the “temperature danger zone,” said Pericaud, when food is going from one temperature zone to another.

Another emphasis of the course is employee health and being able to monitor and recognize employee health issues to determine when an employee needs to be restricted in some aspect or removed from the restaurant altogether. Health issues include hepatitis A, E. coli and shigellosis – an acute bacterial infection of the intestines. In addition to ensuring the health and safety of restaurant customers, the CFSM is also required to notify the local health department of certain symptoms displayed by employees, he added.

Not as big of an issue in the Albany area as in bigger metropolitan areas, where more ethnic restaurants are typically located, is the emphasis on ensuring food is obtained from an approved source. In addition, food items must be exactly as advertised.

“Honest presentation of food means if food is being misrepresented in some manner, it’s a violation of the rules,” said Pericaud, noting that fish is the food item most often misrepresented - Asian catfish being sold as “grouper,” for example.

In addition to making routine inspections of area restaurants, the staff at Environmental Health is responsible for following up on complaints from consumers with food borne illness. However, Pericaud says there is a misconception that the last meal eaten prior to an individual getting sick is always the meal that caused the illness. That may or may not be true, he said.

“Incubations vary and symptoms could be immediate or can take 48 to 72 hours before you start to experience symptoms,” he explained. “If we determine that someone did get an outbreak we try to find out the cause and educate management on how to keep from occurring again. The illness may or may not be from that restaurant.”

Pericaud believes courses such as ServSafe and work by his staff are helping create a restaurant management population that is more aware of food safety issues. For inspection results of area restaurants, check each Thursday for the current results.