Wake County Pursues Federal Standards of Excellence to Ensure Food Safety for Residents and Visitors

Smiling women hold a certificate
Jennifer Brown (right), Environmental Health & Safety Division Director, receives a certificate from Donna Wanucha, FDA Retail Food Regional Specialist.

Each year, one in six Americans get sick from foodborne illness – that’s about 48 million people. And of those people, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

To help prevent foodborne illness, Wake County Environmental Health & Safety staff perform close to 10,000 foodservice facility inspections in 3,897 facilities every year. To achieve even better results, the division is now pursuing a voluntary FDA program to achieve the gold standards of retail food protection and regulation in foodservice.

“We’re going after these standards because we want to do everything we can to protect the public,” said Wake County Commissioner Matt Calabria. “This isn’t a required program, but it will help us identify where we can have the greatest impact on food safety, how we can better prepare inspectors and how we can help retailers and restaurants minimize the risk of getting customers sick.”

There are nine nationally recognized sets of standards, and already Wake County staff have achieved three by the fall of 2022. In response to these achievements, FDA Retail Food Regional Specialist Donna Wanucha presented certificates to Wake County in Sept. 2022.

“One of the standards we achieved initially was ensuring that our Wake County requirements aligned with current federal food code standards and the restaurants meet those standards, so we conducted a thorough review of all of our regulations,” said Jennifer Brown, Environmental Health & Safety Division Director. “Second, we had to make sure we were doing what we could so that the community and those in the food service industry understood our staff’s role and had the ability to ask questions or raise concerns about those standards. And finally, the third standard that we met is integrating Risk Factor studies into our program, which involves conducting random assessments for hundreds of restaurants every five years.”

The five remaining standards Wake County is currently pursuing include:

  • Utilize FDA national standards to establish a baseline of consistently-trained staff
  • Cultivate an inspection program that focuses on prioritizing prevention of foodborne illness risks in establishments
  • Create uniform observation and citation guidelines to establish equity across inspections and help eliminate subjective or varying communication/instruction regarding corrective action
  • Achieve readiness during foodborne illness outbreaks and gain ability to confidently respond to emergencies in the community
  • Build a compliance and enforcement quality assurance program to make sure corrections of risk factors are being consistently carried out and establishments are being offered assistance to gain control of risk factors and improve safety.

Wake County hopes to achieve all five standards by 2024.

To learn more, please visit our website.

Press Release