By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY—If you like a clean restaurant, safe food handling and timely inspections, you will want to meet Iron County’s licensed Environmental Health Scientist (LEHS) Jerry Jorgenson.
Jorgenson is part of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, one of two local inspectors who traveled across five counties to conduct 3,694 food inspections in 2017. It’s his job to oversee full service restaurants; fast food outlets, Maverick food-stations, two nursing homes and any place where food is prepared, cooked and served to the public.
“I have to admit that we wear many hats in this field,” said Jorgenson of 27 years with the county’s health team. “And I’ve come to enjoy the variety.”
His work day might include visiting day care center kitchens, tattoo parlors, tanning salons, inspecting septic-water systems, school food service operations and even, checking on public pools.
Jorgenson, who grew up in Lehi, earned a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in Agricultural Education at Utah State University (USU) in 1989, and has served in his role at the Health Department since 1989. His background is rooted in biology, science and public health.
“I would say that 99 percent of my job is focused on the restaurant and fast-food business,” said Jorgenson, “That’s walking through kitchens, observing food handlers, the preparation process and equipment used.”
Restaurant food inspection is guided by a 700-page code manual issued by the Food and Drug Administration, (FDA). According to Jorgenson, there are three major areas of inspection: temperatures (of the food); hand-washing requirements and cross-contamination food issues. He carries a special laser beam that gives him the precise temperature he finds at the open salad bar, or at any of the cooling or heating units, or storage spaces on site. And Jorgenson is finnicky about the cleanliness he finds in the kitchens, or in the bathroom.
“It’s really a mind set when it comes to clean practices, or food preparation,” said Jorgenson. “I go to these restaurants with my own family, so I have a personal and professional interest in the issues – but there are very few I worry about.”
He explains that the Southwest Utah Public Health Department issued 8,300 food-handler certification cards in 2017, which means that many hands are involved in the overall restaurant industry. “Each restaurant is required to have one certified and trained food manager, and each food handler must take an online course and pass a test – good for three years.”
Inspectors review critical and non-critical issues. “Sometimes that means the food manager needs to correct the issue immediately while I’m there, while the less critical problem may give them some time to correct an issue.”
In Iron County, the Health Department oversees 255 licensed food facilities: full time operations inspected twice a year; seasonal sites reviewed once per year.
While Jorgenson admits that the inspection is only ‘a snap shot’ in time, he has a detailed record that gives him the history of every specific location. “It’s always helpful to know what has been noted or ‘flagged’ in the past, and with an on-site visit, you can assess whether this looks like a normal scenario or if something is really out of place.”
Food preparation/handler inspections for full time food facilities to include mobile food units, seasonal and temporary food permits are an ongoing challenge that keeps him on the road dealing with a variety of locations across five counties.
“The main things that restaurant-goers should consider is whether the staff, waiters or others are washing hands as they move from one location or task, to another,” said Jorgenson of his experience, “You should notice if hot food isn’t hot and cold food, isn’t cold – and smoking of any kind, is just not allowed.”
Jorgenson and a second inspector also handle visits to hotel-kitchens if they serve anything beyond a ‘continental breakfast.’ “Our main job is to reduce or eliminate any kind of unsafe food practices going on… To give people what we all want, a clean and safe dining experience.”
For consumers, there are a range of ‘red flags’ to pay attention to when dining out – experts point out that the handling of basic menu’s, condiment settings, table surfaces and even salt and pepper shakers are known to be at-risk items for spreading germs.
While Jorgenson has seen issues come up in restaurants, he believes that the system works well at weeding out safety problems and correcting the process as needed.
“I walk through many kitchens each week and watch…at a new place, I will (especially) stress the food safety practices,” added Jorgenson.“Sometimes, that means talking to the manager and asking if they’re aware of this issue or that – and they listen to what needs to happen.”
To report a restaurant, or food-service related illness, the public can contact the Public Health Department by phone, or visit the website: http://health.Utah.gov/phaccess/public/illnessreport/
Photo Caption: Jerry Jorgenson is one of two Southwest Utah Public Health Food Inspectors in Iron County who share a variety of duties to keep local restaurants and public-food handlers adhering to FDA protocols and requirements.