A chef slices raw chicken, wipes his hands on his apron and proceeds to make a salad. A cook mixes a vat of New England clam chowder, tastes it, then continues mixing with the same spoon he just put into his mouth. These are cardinal sins in kitchens visited by sanitarian Ed Malik, who has investigated food poisoning outbreaks caused by restaurant workers going to the bathroom and failing to wash their hands.
"That's a felony to me," he said of the latter scenario. "Washing hands is such a small price to pay to avoid a tragedy."
Malik, who is a sanitarian for the Central Connecticut Health District, shared those stories at a heart-healthy cooking class held at Masuk High School last year. The class was offered by the Trumbull-Monroe Health District, which has two full-time and one part-time sanitarians itself.
TMHD Dir. Patrice Sulik is asking the towns of Trumbull and Monroe for $28,000 in her 2013-14 operating budget to allow the part-timer to be promoted to full-time.
In the 1990's the National Environmental Health Association determined there should be one full-time sanitarian per 10,000 population. Trumbull and Monroe have one full-time sanitarian per 21,368 residents.
By contrast, Stratford has one full time sanitarian per 16,666 residents, Fairfield one per 14,250 and Westport-Weston one per 18,000 residents.
Aside from the TMHD having three full-time sanitarians, Sulik said the district would be able to retain a very good employee, who is now part-time.
Surviving the Storms
Sulik said her staff has difficulty finding the time to make routine inspections of the food businesses in the towns of Trumbull and Monroe, a problem that has been compounded by major storms adding to the workload over the past few years.
When prolonged power outages cause food to spoil, Sulik said sanitarians have businesses thow it away, witnessing it and, sometimes making sure it goes into a Dumpster so it's not taken out after the sanitarian leaves.
"They review the proper cleaning techniques," Sulik said of where food is kept. "And remind them to allow adequate time for refrigerators to get to the right temperature before putting new food in."
When Hurricane Sandy hit the region last October, she said the health district worked with businesses before the power came back on, so they could reopen with minimal delay once power was restored.
A sanitarian would be at one restaurant or deli, when his cell phone would ring with another assignment nearby, Sulik said of the fluid operation.
After the demanding week, Sulik said it took her sanitarians two to three weeks to catch up with their regular work. Outbreaks from foodborne illnesses have the same effect and Sulik said the TMHD responded to two in the past two years.
But a sanitarian does so much more. To learn about all of the responsibilities, click here.