The lessons aren’t just for the kitchen staff. Even restaurant hostesses, busboys and bartenders like Kevin Talley must take a class in safe food preparation.
Talley, 26, works at Scuttlebutt’s restaurant on Everett’s waterfront. The required course provides information on food safety through each step of preparation, from delivery door to dining table. “That way, you could go in and help out at any other position,” he said.
The first time he took the course it was conducted traditionally, in a classroom with an instructor, and a test at the end.
In May 2011, the Snohomish Health District broke with tradition and began offering the course online. The online course is so popular that last year, 22,649 people in the county received their training for their food worker cards online, said Rick Zahalka, the health district’s food program manager.
Just 3,076 people took the health district’s class in person.
The goal is to prevent people from getting sick from the food through problems such as undercooked hamburger or foods that haven’t been kept cool enough to prevent the growth of germs.
Problems in food preparation can cause people to become sickened with illnesses such as E. coli or salmonella, which potentially can be life threatening.
The charge for the course, whether online or in the classroom, is $10. The food worker cards can be used anywhere in Washington. Food worker cards are good for two years after the first class and can be renewed for three years afterward.
The online courses are available in English, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Cambodian and closed caption for the hearing impaired.
The public can test their food preparation skills by going to the online site and taking the course. They’re only charged if they want a food handler’s card, Zahalka said.
“I highly recommend all cooks take the test,” he said. “It can’t hurt to have home cooks aware of the risks to food safety, especially when handling raw chicken.”
Several food handling techniques can combat about 90 percent of all food-borne illness, he said. “It comes down to keep it clean, wash your hands, washing the surfaces the food comes into contact with — cutting boards and knives.”
Talley was among those who said he prefers taking the food safety course online.
“It really was nice to take the test at my home and not have to drive somewhere and be there by a certain time,” he said. “It was much more convenient.”
Kayla Kjallin, 19, a hostess at the restaurant, said that taking the course online allowed her to do it on her own time, sitting at home, “instead of having to sit and listen to people talk about basic things like not coming to work sick,” she said.
The work tasks of Ashlee Priszner, 20, include all the details that make dining out a pleasant experience, making sure the spoons and crackers go out on the same plate with the restaurant’s chowder and that all the food ordered together goes out as a group.
Priszner said the online course was more productive. “I’m more of a hands-on learner,” she said. “I could look at it, read it, and look at the pictures.”
Scuttle Bannan, who has owned the restaurant for 16 years, said she prefers taking the food safety course in person.
“I’m from the old school,” she said. “I’m lucky to have a cell phone.”
Bannan said she thinks she learns more from sitting in a classroom to review the information.
“I think it’s really good to be required to do it every couple of years,” she said. “It’s a good reminder.”
Her daughter, Maggie Doud, who fills in periodically at the family business, said she loved taking the course online.
Doud said she sometimes found sitting in a room full of people taking the course could be distracting. And there was the hassle of getting a baby-sitter and trying to find a parking spot near the health district’s offices in downtown Everett.
The instructors did a good job of presenting the material, she said. “But the convenience, for me, definitely won out over the class.”
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Top 10 violations
This is a list of the top 10 food handling violations found by the Snohomish Health District during restaurant inspections in 2012. The number of each violation found during inspections is in parenthesis. Health officials say many of these same problems can cause food-borne illness when cooking at home.
1. Hand washing. These include not having a supply of paper towels for workers to dry their hands on each time they wash their hands, or employees not washing their hands after handling raw fish, meat or poultry before helping to prepare other food. (432 violations)
2. Cold holding. Not storing refrigerated food at or below 41 degrees. (401 violations)
3. Food worker cards. Employees couldn’t show that they had completed the course on safe food handling during routine restaurant inspections. (283 violations)
4. Non-food contact surfaces not clean. (203 violations)
5. Food preparation surfaces not adequately cleaned (193 violations)
6. Floors walls and ceilings not maintained and cleaned (177 violations)
7. Improper cooling of hot foods to 41 degrees within six hours. (169 violations)
8. Improper hot holding, food not kept at 140 degrees or warmer (148 violations)
9. Inadequate room temperature storage. Food found on the counter with no one monitoring the temperature of the food. (131 violations)
10. Potential food contamination, such as open containers in a storage room or other problems. (117 violations)
Source: Snohomish Health District