University Park, Pa. -- A new law recently adopted by the state Legislature will have some immediate and important impacts on eating establishments in Pennsylvania, according to a food-safety expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.
House bill 74, which became Act 106 of 2010 when it was signed by the governor in early December, combined and updated previous regulations, noted Martin Bucknavage, senior extension associate in food science. "After years of wrangling, Pennsylvania lawmakers finally updated state regulations affecting establishments that make and sell food," Bucknavage said.
"Clearly, one of the benefits is that the new law provides a single minimal standard across the state," he said. "The law will use the current U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Code as a standard, and so Pennsylvania regulations across the state will stay current as the Food Code is updated."
There are some aspects of the law that managers of retail food establishments should be aware of, he explained. First, there are now fees for reinspection of a facility."If an establishment must be reinspected due to obtaining noncompliant status in the first inspection, there is a fee of $150 for reinspection," Bucknavage said. "If a third inspection is required, then a fee of $300 must be paid.
"It will be wise for establishments to be proactive in correcting situations that can result in the facility being graded noncompliant," he said.
In the past, eatery proprietors could request that a state inspector do a cursory inspection, which was a free service. But now there will be a $150 fee charged for unofficial inspections.
"It is also important to note that the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has the right to perform an inspection if the local health authority has failed to perform the required inspection," Bucknavage said. "So if your local inspector is not on time, don't be surprised if a Department of Agriculture inspector shows up.
"Pennsylvania inspectors have the right to inspect any facility that makes and sells food," Bucknavage added. "And they have the right to take samples for testing of any food items to insure that the food products are safe. The Department of Ag, of course, will have to pay for those samples."
One of the biggest changes may be the new requirements regarding the establishment's certified manager, Bucknavage suggested. The certified person is considered the "person-in-charge" of the facility. "So if an inspector comes into the facility and wants to talk to the person-in-charge, that person will need to be certified," he said.
"Under the new law, if the owner is not certified, then the owner is not technically in charge. Additionally, the certified person must be accessible at all times the facility is operating. And the certified employee can be the person-in-charge for only one facility. The only exception is temporary facilities such as at a fair."
As a result of the new law, the state no longer will be involved in issuing certifications. In the past, people wishing to be certified took an approved food-safety training course followed by an examination and then sent the testing body's certificate and $20 to the Department of Agriculture to receive an official state certification. No longer, Bucknavage said. The testing body certificate will now be the accepted document.
"While this makes it easier, it does have a downside," Bucknavage said. "The state no longer will issue recertification certificates. That is, a person will need to take the certification examination every five years, instead of just having to participate in eight hours of training and then sending the old state certification to the Department of Agriculture for reissuance of a new certificate."
Those who wish to obtain recertification under current law have until Jan. 22, 2011 to apply. Bucknavage said Penn State Cooperative Extension offices throughout the state will offer limited recertification opportunities.
Extension conducts state-approved food-safety certification training for food-service managers through ServSafe, a national program developed by the National Restaurant Association. For more information, contact your county Penn State Cooperative Extension office or visit extension's food-safety website at http://extension.psu.edu/food-safety/serv-safe.