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Local bar, restaurants oppose Anchorage food safety changes

Changes to the food safety code the Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services wanted to begin enforcing in July are taking just a little longer than anticipated.

The first changes to the food safety regulations for Alaska’s largest city since 2010 are open for public comment until Sept. 22, and the department is hosting two open houses to promote them.

However, the powerful Cook Inlet Cabaret Hotel Restaurant & Retailer’s Association (CHARR) representing more than 240 bars, restaurants, hotels and liquor stores, opposes the code changes.   Kirsten Myles, Cook Inlet CHARR’s executive director, says her organization is opposed because the changes are burdensome and inefficient.

The City of Anchorage is the only local government in Alaska with jurisdiction over public health. About 300,000 people, or almost half the state’s population, are within that jurisdiction.

Most state food codes, including Alaska’s, are based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “model food code.” Anchorage’s proposed changes would bring the city more in line with that code.

Outside of Anchorage, the state of Alaska bans bartenders from using their bare hands to garnish drinks. In 2010, however, the Cook Inlet CHARR stopped the ban on bare hands from taking effect in Anchorage.

Serving drinks bare-handed with lemons, limes, olives and other extras puts the customer at risk for such foodborne diseases as norovirus, Hepatitis A, and others. Last time, Anchorage agreed to give the industry more time to adapt.

One change where Anchorage might be said to going the other way involves fish. The city’s chefs want to be able to cook freshly caught fish at 125 degrees, which is 20 degrees lower than the FDA recommended cooking temperature to kill pathogens. The chefs say cooking at the lower temperature results in fresh fish being more tender and flaky.

Also because there are so few wild mushroom specialists there, the new code would eliminate a requirement for the fungi to be reviewed by a specialist, which is not being enforced. The new system requirements menus disclosed that wild mushrooms are not an inspected product.

Food banks and cultural programs may accept donated wild game under one of the new proposals. The current code does not include that language, but it’s current practice.

Bar and restaurant owners are also opposing language to require businesses to clean and maintain “grease interceptors,” or grease traps, at least every 30 days, and to keep maintenance records to show inspectors.

The changes also cover cottage foods — non-temperature-controlled products made in home kitchens — like cakes and cookies, jellies, jams and bread.

Stakeholder meetings are set for Sept. 6 and Sept. 13. Comments are due by Sept. 22. They can be submitted via mail to: Department of Health and Human Services, Attn: Food Code, 825 L St., Anchorage, AK 99501. Email comments should be sent to: foodcode@muni.org.

Any changes to the city’s food code require approval by the Anchorage Assembly, an 11-member body elected by the voters of Anchorage.

 

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