Raleigh, N.C. — Instead of receiving bonus points on their inspection grades for taking a food safety class, North Carolina restaurants will be docked points, starting next year, if they don't have managers with the necessary training.
Local health directors say a Senate bill that seeks to ease those requirements could compromise the safety inspections, but supporters of the legislation argue it's simply a misunderstanding.
Unannounced inspections help keep food establishments honest in North Carolina, but many health inspectors worry Senate Bill 482 could eliminate that element of surprise. A provision in the bill states establishments can't be inspected unless a certified food protection manager is on site.
"I don't think that was ever the intent of it, to say it was a way to not be inspected. That was never the intent of it," said Andy Ellen, president of the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association.
Ellen said the bill, which will likely be amended before it's voted on, is designed to protect 24-hour food preparers like Waffle House. Restaurant owners complained about new restrictions that penalize establishments without a certified food protection manager on site at all times.
"It's 3 o'clock in the morning, (and) the shift supervisor doesn't show up or you're trying to consistently train and have people pass that test all the time," he said. "(That) goes far beyond what the 2009 Food Code requires."
Most states allow some exceptions for establishments with clean inspection records or staff who have food safety knowledge but lack certification, Ellen said.
The bill does attempt to lower the qualifications and training for food protection managers, but Lynette Tolson, executive director of the North Carolina Association of Local Health Directors, said she was happy to hear the bill's intent is not to curb surprise inspections.
Tolson said she hopes her group and Ellen's organization can reach a resolution without the need for legislation.