Labor Day is the time for ending the summer with friends, fun, barbecues and dining out. However, the biggest spoiler at a summer outing is a food borne illness. This year, one in six people will get sick from food poisoning (also known as food borne illness). Food poisoning can affect anyone who eats food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, or other substances. Some groups of people, such as older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, have a higher risk of getting sick from contaminated food. Also, if they do become ill, the effects of food poisoning are a lot more serious. On the other hand, if you prepare and store foods properly, then you should feel safe in serving friends and family. Dining out is also a fun change of pace, but a nice restaurant meal can again be ruined by food poisoning. Fortunately for the public, restaurants and other food establishments in New Jersey must operate under strict public health regulations.
The Cape May County Department of Health, Environmental Services Division, oversees many regulated programs and has the authority to inspect every retail food establishment as often as it deems necessary. Linda Wilde, Division Director of Environmental Services stated, “Some places we may inspect more than others due to the potential hazards in their food facility,” Wilde explained, adding that additional inspections may be conducted on a restaurant or facility that receives complaints, regardless of how often that facility would normally be investigated.
Food establishments inspected include, but are not limited to, restaurants, bakeries, delis, supermarkets, catering facilities, institutions, and mobile units. The unannounced inspections are conducted by trained Public Health Professionals with college degrees who are also licensed New Jersey Registered Environmental Health Specialists.
According to Wilde, “In 2007, the food code, Chapter 24: Sanitation in Retail Food Establishments & Food & Beverage Vending Machines (N.J.A.C. 8:24), was revised and made the process of inspecting a retail food establishment more stringent and time consuming for the Registered Environmental Health Specialists.” A Chapter 24 inspection mainly consists of observations of the food handlers, observing cooling times, and taking internal temperature measurements to ensure the food is being handled properly.
Per Chapter 24, the retail food establishments are assigned a “risk type”. The following is a description of the four risk types:
• “Risk type 1 food establishment” means any retail food establishment that serves or sells only pre-packaged, non-potentially hazardous foods such as convenience store operations, hot dog carts and coffee shops.
• “Risk type 2 food establishment” means any retail food establishment that has a limited menu and prepares cooks and serves most products immediately.
• “Risk type 3 food establishment” means any retail food establishment that has an extensive menu which requires the handling of raw ingredients and is involved in the complex preparation of many items that includes the cooking, cooling, and reheating of at least three or more potentially hazardous foods.
• “Risk type 4 food establishments” means a retail food establishment that conducts specialized processes such as smoking, curing, canning, bottling, or acidification.
Wilde stated that High Risk Type 3 and 4 facilities are the main inspection priority for the Cape May County Department of Health. There are approximately 359 high risk facilities in this county. A routine inspection of this type of retail food establishment can take a minimum of 3 hours to conduct. Over the last 3 years the Cape May County Department of Health has made over 3,000 retail food establishment inspections.
Year Number of Food Establishments Total Number of Inspections
2015 1500 698 (to date)
2014 1500 1290
2013 1500 1066
These inspections range from pre-opening inspections, routine inspections, and re-inspections. Immediately upon the conclusion of each inspection, the health authority issues an evaluation placard of the establishment and leaves the original copy of the inspection report form with the person in charge. The evaluation placard shall be posted to identify that the establishment has met one of the following:
1. “Satisfactory”: The establishment is found to be operating in substantial compliance;
2. “Conditionally Satisfactory”: At the time of the inspection the establishment was found not to be operating in substantial compliance.
3. “Unsatisfactory”: Whenever a retail food establishment is operating in violation of this chapter, with one or more violations that constitute gross unsanitary or unsafe conditions, which pose an imminent health hazard
Health Officer, Kevin Thomas said, “the process of inspecting restaurants is an important one, and the health department considers any potential violations that may lead to illness reason for concern. Inspections and the evaluation rating are all about keeping people safe.”