Monday, June 28, 2010

Working with health inspectors

Last week I had the privilege of providing IPM training to a group of state and local health inspectors from south Texas.  It was the first time I've had the chance to train health inspectors and it was an interesting experience. 

I learned that being a health inspector is likely to permanently dull your enjoyment of going out to eat.  After all, health inspectors see the (sometimes) scary underbelly of the food services industry.  Even in the restaurants with good records, if an inspector eats out, he or she is wondering how long the salad's been out, if the preparer was wearing clean gloves,  whether the refrigerators are cold enough, and if the dishwashers have been properly trained to disinfect the silverware.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Unlike Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector (I've not seen the movie, but the subtitle is "They'll give anyone a badge"), these folks were professionals, very dedicated to their work and making sure the public health is protected.

The other thing I learned was how hungry these health inspectors are for IPM information.  Relatively few inspectors in our group seemed to have a strong understanding of pest management principles, or how the pest control business works. 

One of the more interesting discussions we had concerned the use of sticky cards as monitoring devices in restaurants.  As a PMP, you may have encountered restaurant owners who are unwilling to allow insect sticky cards in their establishment because they are afraid that any insects on the cards might alert the inspector to an insect problem that they might not otherwise know about.  After our training and discussion, everyone in the class agreed that having sticky cards in an establishment was a positive thing, as it showed that the owner cared, and was serious about monitoring the condition of the business.  [Of course sticky cards can be a two-edged sword.  Sticky cards that are not maintained and changed regularly can reflect conditions that no longer exist in the restaurant, and are likely a sign of lack of attention to detail on the part of the technician.] 

I learned that health inspectors try to look at the bigger picture when they score an eating establishment, school or day care.  An inspector will not necessarily consider a single cockroach on a trap or on the floor an "unacceptable" infestation.  It takes more infractions than just cockroaches or rodents to shut down a restaurant.  The inspector considers the overall condition of the facility, if the owners are making an effort to solve pest problems and whether they're employing the expertise of a professional. 

A good PMP can make the job of a health inspector easier.  Sticky cards and bait stations should be signed and dated every inspection.  Detailed documentation of what species of pests were observed, what conducive conditions for pests you've noted, pesticide types and amounts used, along with non-chemical controls employed, and the progress of the pest control program can be very helpful to an inspector. 

Health inspectors can be, and should be, the allies of pest control professionals.  After all, the goal of both kinds of professionals should be the same, namely: clean, pest-free and sanitary eating and living places.  I wish for our industry a better and closer relationship with health inspectors.  If you have the chance to meet an inspector don't neglect to ask them questions about how your customer's restaurants are scoring, what their perspectives are on pest control, and maybe provide some information about how your company approaches IPM.  You might gain a referral or two; and you might help them understand your perspective a little better.  

For my part, I hope to do more trainings with these public health professionals.  Wouldn't it be nice to know that your health inspector feels comfortable eating at any of the restaurants your company services?  That would be worth celebrating with a nice dinner out. 

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