Florida’s restaurant inspections: Major changes coming on Jan. 1

Florida restaurant inspectors recently announced some major changes in how they will start checking out kitchens. These changes are meant to improve food safety statewide and do a better job guaranteeing safer food. Starting Jan. 1, changes will be made in the way restaurants are inspected and how consumers are warned about possible allergens in their meals.

As part of a National Food Safety crackdown, the new guidelines follow changes in the National Food Safety Codes that were mandated by Congress and the U.S. Food and Drug administration in 2009.

Aimed at making prepared foods safer and cutting down on food-borne illnesses, the new guidelines state that children’s foods can no longer simply be warmed up, but must be fully cooked to kill off any potentially dangerous foodborne bacteria. More public disclosures on menus about possible allergens like fruit and nuts in prepared foods to prevent possible severe allergic reactions will be included. Restaurants still will face a minimum of two mandatory food safety inspections a year.

Inspection violations will be better classified into three categories, two of which are in effect now to help pinpoint specific food safety problems and fix them. The new classifications will provide more detailed information for food safety areas that need to be improved. Inspection reports are available online at myfloridaliscense.com, and consumers still have the right to ask for, and be shown, a restaurant’s most current inspection report.

Alain Turras wonders how safe and healthy the food is when he goes out to eat. He said every now and then he doesn’t feel well afterwards.

“Sometimes you go out and wonder about how the food is being cooked, whether it’s healthy,” he said.“Sometimes after eating at a restaurant, I’m not feeling very well.”

The Florida Restaurant Association supports the changes, which will be phased in statewide starting in January. Some local restaurant operators say it may be mean more “red tape” for them, but they don’t think it will be a major problem at all.

“It’s ‘red tape,’ but it shouldn’t be too bad since a good operator ought to be doing it right, anyway,” said Lee Neal, a Doral restaurant operator.

Florida remains one of the few states in the nation that doesn’t “grade” food safety and require those grades to be openly posted for customers to see. But we still have the right to ask to see a restaurant’s latest health inspection form under state law.

For more information visit online at www.myfloridalicense.com.

Watch Al Sunshine’s “Money Watch” reports Monday-Friday on CBS4. You may find Al’s blog at www.cbs4.com/category/blogs/al-sunshine.

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