Out of 831 jurisdictions enrolled throughout the United States, Gwinnett, Newton and Rockdale County (GNR) Health Departments is now one of only five jurisdictions in the nation to meet all nine standards of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program ("Program Standards").
Conforming to the Program Standards is a rigorous process according to Chris Smith, Retail Food Service director with the FDA: "On average most jurisdictions meet two to three standards out of the nine total." Smith met with the county boards of health to present the nine standards certificates to Jason Reagan, director of environmental health at GNR Health Departments.
"Who hasn't eaten at a restaurant in the last year?" Reagan asked. "We have created a uniform standard across our Food Service program. Everyone in our three counties will benefit from safer restaurants, all held to the highest standards."
By achieving the Program Standards, GNR Health Departments is becoming part of a more uniform national inspection program. The "Trained Regulatory Staff" standard is a good example of how the Program Standards increase the level of consistency and accuracy of food inspections. GNR Health Departments has developed a comprehensive training program where new inspectors are exposed to a variety of foods, cultures, human interactions, and facility conditions during their joint field training. Employees also train under a program that covers various food inspection topics, procedures, and protocols in a classroom setting to better prepare them for real-world inspections. One trainer is assigned to a maximum of two new inspectors for more one-on-one interaction.
"Essentially, meeting all nine standards shows that our Food Service program is very similar to the FDA," said Reagan. "This process is more than just checking boxes. It's about standardizing our program. Within the Program Standards we focus on the factors that cause and contribute to foodborne illness and work towards reducing the occurrence of those factors."
The nine standards include, (1) Regulatory Foundation, (2) Trained Regulatory Staff, (3) Inspection Program Based on HACCP Principles, (4) Uniform Inspection Program, (5) Foodborne Illness and Food Defense Preparedness, and Response, (6) Compliance and Enforcement, (7) Industry and Community Relations, (8) Program Support and Resources, and (9) Program Assessment.
There are currently only four other jurisdictions in the country meeting all nine standards. Those include Kansas City Missouri Health Department (Missouri), City of Vineland Health Department (New Jersey), Portsmouth Health Department (Virginia), and Virginia Beach Department of Public Health (Virginia).
To learn more about the Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards, visit the FDA's website.