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NM food handlers, foodservice operators face new regs

Foodservice operations such as restaurants, hotels, hospitals, schools and prisons in New Mexico face a March 1 deadline to meet new state food safety requirements, but they’ve already had a year’s grace period to get their ducks and disinfectants in a row.

Key provisions of the prevention-based regulations went into effect a year ago, but food handlers were given a year to complete training and obtain a “food handler card.” Similarly, establishments were given a year to get staff trained and certified as “food protection managers” so that at least one employee per shift “has authority to direct and control food preparation and service.”

New Mexico food programThose requirements and others go into effect March 1 for all foodservice outlets outside the city of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County.

The New Mexico Restaurant Association is offering help to foodservice operators meet the requirements of the New Mexico Environment Department. The association is offering classes in Farmington through a National Restaurant Association program called ServSafe to prepare food handlers to meet the new requirements.

An eight-hour certified food safety manager course will be Feb. 20, and a three-hour food handler class will be Feb. 21. The food handler class is also available online and is offered in Spanish and English. Dionne Wright-Bower, a spokeswoman for the state restaurant group, said in a news release the food safety manager doesn’t actually have to be a manager to meet the new requirement.

The reg requiring a “food protection manager” is not a requirement for an actual certification, she said. Rather, it requires one person on every shift who can answer detailed questions about proper food handling.

“For instance, you can’t have someone who may be a dishwasher but who is not trained in proper food handling left alone in the restaurant to lock up,” she said. “If that location gets inspected at that time, that individual will need to be able to answer detailed questions about safe food handling. Otherwise, the location will get a violation.”

In addition to training for food handlers and “food protection managers,” the new food safety regulations address proper sanitation of dishes and cooking utensils, using safe temperatures to store and cook food and avoiding cross-contamination.

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