The Wake County Environmental Health and Safety team is proud to be working to achieve federal (FDA) standards of excellence to help ensure the food you buy and eat from restaurants and retailers is safe. Wake County enrolled in this voluntary program to show its commitment to stopping foodborne illnesses, which sicken 1 in 6 Americans each year and can even be deadly.
Our team of 33 inspectors began working to meet these standards in 2008 and we have achieved three, with six more to go. Here’s a quick explainer on each of the standards we’re pursuing:
Standard 1 – Regulatory Foundation
This standard applies to the regulatory foundation used by a retail food program. Regulatory foundation includes any statute, regulation, rule, ordinance or other prevailing set of regulatory requirements that governs the operation of a retail food establishment. The desired outcome of this standard is the adoption of a sound, science-based regulatory foundation for the public health program. To meet this standard the operations should meet federal Food Code requirements. Every four years, FDA releases its Food Code – a model that encompasses guidelines and provisions to best ensure that food offered at retail food establishments and in food service is safe, unadulterated and honestly presented.
Wake County met this standard on Sept. 5, 2022, by doing a side-by-side comparison of the FDA Food Code and NC Regulations, Statutes and Food Code. It has been audited and verified by an auditor.
Standard 2 – Trained Regulatory Staff
This Standard applies to the essential elements of a training program for regulatory staff. Food Safety Inspection Officers shall have the knowledge, skills and ability to adequately perform their required duties. To meet this standard inspection staff should complete the 5-step training and standardization process, including taking several courses, participating in a minimum of 25 joint field training inspections and a minimum of 25 independent inspections.
We are currently pursuing this standard. The full process is expected to take 18 months to complete.
Mecklenburg County and Wake County will work together to meet this standard. Together these counties have 25% of all retail food establishments in North Carolina. Achieving this standard will mean that a quarter of the state's food establishments will work with fully standardized staff by 2025.
Standard 3 – Inspection Program Based on HACCP Principles
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is a management system that addresses food safety through analyzing and controlling biological, chemical and physical hazards at all stages – from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.
This standard applies to the use of HACCP principles to control risk factors in a retail food inspection program. To meet the standard the team should do frequent inspections, develop policies and document the implementation of those policies, prioritizing activities based on risk.
We are pursuing this standard.
Standard 4 – Uniform Inspection Program
This standard applies to the jurisdiction’s internal policies and procedures to ensure regulatory staff uniformly interpret regulatory requirements, program policies and compliance to the procedures. To meet this standard the team should implement an ongoing quality assurance program to evaluate and ensure inspection quality, frequency and uniformity among regulatory staff. The aim is to ensure uniform, high-quality inspections.
The County conducts quality assurance on all team members quarterly. We are currently pursuing this standard.
Standard 5 – Foodborne Illness and Food Defense Preparedness and Response
This standard applies to the surveillance, investigation, response and subsequent review of alleged food-related incidents and emergencies, whether unintentional or deliberate, that result in illness, injury and outbreaks. The program has an established system to detect, collect, investigate and respond to complaints and emergencies that involve foodborne illness, injury, and intentional and unintentional food contamination. To meet this standard the team should follow, maintain and implement all operating procedures.
We are currently pursuing this standard.
Standard 6 – Compliance and Enforcement
This standard applies to all compliance and enforcement activities used by a team to achieve compliance with regulations. Compliance and enforcement activities result in follow-up actions for out-of-control risk factors and timely correction of code violations. This means that all voluntary and regulatory actions should be taken to achieve compliance with regulations. Voluntary corrective action includes, but is not limited to, such activities as on-site corrections at time of inspection, voluntary destruction of product, risk control plans and remedial training. Enforcement action includes, but is not limited to, such activities as warning letters, re-inspection, citations, administrative fines, permit suspension and hearings. To meet this standard the team must demonstrate credible follow-up for each violation noted during an inspection, with particular emphasis placed on risk factors that most often contribute to foodborne illness.
We are currently pursuing this standard.
Standard 7 – Industry and Community Relations
This standard applies to industry and community outreach activities used by a retail food regulatory program to solicit a broad spectrum of input about that program’s previous, current and future activity, communicate sound public health food safety principles, and foster and recognize community initiatives focused on the reduction of foodborne illness risk factors. To meet this standard the team should document participation in forums that foster communication and information exchange among regulators, industry and consumer representatives. The jurisdiction documents outreach activities that provide educational information on food safety.
We achieved this standard on Sept. 2, 2022.
Standard 8 – Program Support and Resources
This standard applies to the program resources, such as budget, staff, equipment, etc., necessary to support an inspection and surveillance system designed to reduce risk factors and other factors known to contribute to foodborne illness. The program provides funding, staff and equipment necessary to achieve compliance with the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards.
We will pursue this standard after 2024.
Standard 9 – Program Assessment
This standard applies to the process used to measure the success of a team’s efforts in reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors, to enhance food safety and public health in the community. To meet this standard the team should ensure that the Risk Factor Study is completed. Risk Factor Study measures the occurrence of practices and behaviors commonly identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as contributing factors in foodborne illness outbreaks.
The Wake County Environmental Health and Safety team has worked since 2010 to reduce health and safety risks for customers using data and studies from restaurant and food service evaluations. Risk Factor Study has been completed every five years since 2010, with the next study scheduled for 2025.
We achieved this standard on Sept. 1, 2019.