ROSEMONT, IL — Food safety inspections for the past 100 years or so have generally fallen into one or the other of just two categories.
Meat inspection since the 1906 Federal Meat Inspection Act has been a USDA service provided by it’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) personnel who are assigned to about 6,200 private establishments that produce meat and poultry. USDA provides continuous inspection services.
Other food manufacturers are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the states. The agencies come in for on-site inspections that are often risk-based. On-site inspections are carried out by FDA or state government staff.
Steven Mandernach, executive director of the Association of Food and Drug Officials (AFDO), says the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a new kind of food safety inspection — the virtual food safety check.
As the latest example of necessity being the mother invention, Mandernach told opening day “attendees” at the virtual Food Safety Summit that South Carolina’s virtual food safety checks are an example of the kind of innovation coming out of the pandemic by the states that are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight.
The virtual Food Safety Summit is an education program and a leading interactive forum on food safety running this week through Thursday. Registered attendees can explore, learn, and interact with other participants by logging into the virtual atmosphere. Click here to register and gain access.
Virtual food safety checks are an innovation out of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Their use was first announced this past April as a tool for continuing food safety during the COVID-19 crisis.
Utilizing a variety of video conferencing services, DHEC inspectors can virtually evaluate retail food operations at establishments around the state, allowing the agency to continue its food safety oversight while also protecting public health by adhering to social distancing measures.
South Carolina uses the new technology to perform virtual preoperational inspections that will assist restaurant owners who may be in the process of opening a new restaurant during this unprecedented time
“Through our partnership with the restaurant industry, this creative approach allows us to stay connected with these essential businesses while we continue our oversight of food safety compliance,” said Myra Reece, DHEC’s director of environmental affairs. “We’re working together to help ensure the food that customers order is safe.”
During the virtual checks, DHEC staff can discuss current operational challenges and address any concerns restaurant operators may have. Afterward, the restaurant operator will receive a completed DHEC Food Safety Check via email, and the check report will be posted on the South Carolina Food Grades website.
“We applaud DHEC on their continuing, strong commitment to keeping our restaurants safe for consumers,” said John Durst, president and CEO of the South Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (SCRLA). “This need exists more now than it has in any other emergency we have faced together. We strongly encourage foodservice establishments across the state to contact DHEC and set up a virtual visit.”
The SCRLA is cooperating with DHEC to ensure food safety and compliance across South Carolina.
For a brief look at what a virtual food check looks like, please see a video here.
For DHEC’s latest guidance and recommendations about COVID-19 and retail food establishments, visit www.scdhec.gov/COVID19.
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