The Lake County Board of Commissioners heard comments during a public hearing Tuesday, March 12, on proposed ordinance changes that would made the county's food code stricter than state requirements.
The revised changes to Lake County Ordinance 7, which deals with food and beverage regulations, are required to be updated. As the Minnesota Department of Health food code is updated, the local code must be amended to be in compliance.
However, there were three proposed changes to the local food code which go a step further in requirements than the state requires.
The most contentious proposed change would deal with certified food-protection managers (CFM). Certified food-protection managers are trained staff who have completed a course such as ServSafe and have current certification.
Currently, Minnesota code requires each establishment to have a CFM on staff. The proposed ordinance would require a CFM to be on duty during all open hours and during special events.
Environmental health specialist John Weidner explained the examples he witnessed while doing health inspections that led him to push for this enhanced regulation.
"There have been times when I would ask an employee questions about food cooking temperatures or when they're supposed to wash their hands and how and they have no clue," Weidner said. "They give me wrong temperatures, sometimes below the minimum temp. They can't explain how they're supposed to wash hands.
"When putting on gloves, I ask, 'What are you supposed to do before putting on gloves?' They just look at me: 'I don't know.'"
Weidner said the idea behind enhancing the code isn't punitive, but to educate and to encourage public safety standards.
"We want them to be knowledgeable and to pass that knowledge on to the remaining staff," Weidner said. "And to be on hand to answer safety questions and be a guide."
County commissioners were skeptical of the proposed change. Commissioner Rick Goutermont expressed concerns with placing a financial or scheduling burden on the business owners.
"I feel like you're making the restaurants spend these expenses, but it's also not guaranteed to solve the problem. It feels like a burden on the business owners that doesn't need to be there," Goutermont said. "And why? Because someone can't tell you the exact temperature to cook something."
Micki Werner, owner of the Mocha Moose, echoed these concerns with her public comments.
"Given that our business is seasonal, we go from 35 hours a week to 65 hours a week between Memorial (Day) weekend and Oct. 15. That is a concern given our turnover rate with employees," Werner said. "If we're required to have a CFM on-site at all times, that would very much limit our ability to be open seasonally due to the costs involved.
We both (Werner and mother Peggy Agar) have certifications, but if we need to take a break, then we need to get someone else certified and that's a lot for our small place."
The cafe doesn't prepare raw food or have a full kitchen, but because it hot-holds soups and serves eggs, they would be required to have a CFM on-site.
As for the costs involved, Lake County offers free ServSafe classes in April and October as well as renewal classes. Students would be required to provide their own $70 textbooks and a $35 answer sheet.
If they pass the class, would be required to pay $35 to the Minnesota Department of Health for the certificate. The county has provided two copies of the textbook, available for checkout from the Two Harbors and Silver Bay public libraries.
The classes are eight hours long for the original course and four hours for the refresher course, with two hours of test time added to each.
The two other regulations included for consideration included requiring establishments to have hot water available at hand in sinks used by employees, and to have a copy of the Minnesota food code and Lake County Food and Beverage ordinance available and accessible to every employee, either electronically or physically.
The ordinance was not on the county board's agenda for action. Commissioners stated they hoped to see more of a compromise between the regulation and the concerns of business owners.
"I think we got some good insight from business owners today and I hope we can continue this conversation and come to some conclusion," Chairman Rich Sve said.