With 109 food-poisoning cases in Buncombe County in 2013 — and probably more that went unreported — Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina has teamed up with the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association to train local workers and certify them through the national ServSafe program.
“Making people sick is bad business, and you can definitely take measures to prevent that from occurring,” says Nine-Mile co-owner Nathan Ray. He’s gone through the training, been certified and makes sure his staff is trained.
Food poisoning can come from bad food or bad food handling, with salmonella and E-coli the common culprits.
In 2012, salmonella in a contaminated batch of tempeh led to more than 60 reported cases of food poisoning in Buncombe County in the first few days of the outbreak. The culprit was a bad batch supplied by a Maryland company to local business Smiling Hara. And in the early 1980s, contaminated ham at Ridgecrest Conference Center resulted in more than 300 cases.
“Offering ServSafe in collaboration with AIR became a clear need in Asheville,” says Kim Stowe, skills training facilitator for Goodwill. “Part of Goodwill’s mission is to enhance lives through training and to provide convenient resources for testing and certification at reduced fees. In this case, making it easier and less expensive for restaurant owners and staff to get the ServSafe training, benefits all parties and ultimately, the community.”
The National Restaurant Association implemented the ServSafe program in 2003, with approval by the American National Standards Institute and the Conference on Food Protection. As a part of the periodic inspection of food-service businesses, one managerial person who is ServSafe-certified must be on premises when the inspection is done — usually monthly — or lose two points from the Health Department’s score that is posted for the public to see, Stowe explains.
Since inspections may happen at any time, unannounced, restaurants aim to have several managers certified, as well as non-managerial staff, because a bad reputation can sink a restaurant quickly.
All food workers are required to have a food handler’s permit, and most such workers know the basic rules, promulgated by the state, such as personal hygiene and service techniques. But food is a complicated commodity, and more advanced information must be mastered for a ServSafe certificate.
Goodwill handles the training, testing and certification at its Career Connections Center on Patton Avenue in West Asheville. The six-hour training course — open only to AIR-affiliated restaurant managers and employees — costs $115 and includes a copy of the 150-page ServSafe manual. Training materials are available for both AIR and non-AIR students to prepare for the test, which consists of 90 questions and costs $90 to take. Anyone who is interested can take the test online through the AIR website.
Goodwill expects to train at least 100 food managers this year and test 100 more.
“It is critical to have so many in the restaurant certified because of the increased attention to potential hazards,” says Nine Mile chef Amy Lawson. “The little things that people may not have paid attention to prior to training, they do so afterward. This makes me more confident in my crew, myself as a chef and with the food we serve.”
For more information about ServSafe, go to servsafe.com. For more information about ServSafe and Goodwill’s local training program, call Kim Stowe at 298-9023 ext. 1142 or visit airasheville.org/shop.