Wednesday, August 26, 2009

600 Calif. restaurants sent back to food-safety class

A food-safety scandal has erupted in the San Francisco area , judging from the coverage that’s pouring out of the city this morning. This time the culprit isn’t a virus or bacteria, but three apparent knuckleheads employed as test administrators by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The trio reportedly undermined the tests they administered to more than 600 restaurant employees who sought to be certified as grasping the principles of food safety. Many states, counties and municipalities require that at least one person at a restaurant earn a so-called safe handler certificate by undergoing one of several accepted courses, virtually all of which require a final exam.

The certificate awarded to 345 restaurant managers in San Francisco and 183 elsewhere in the Bay Area were revoked because of what the health department termed “irregularities” in the testing process. The department explained that the alleged shenanigans included presenting the certificates without requiring the test and providing the answers either before or during the exam.

In any case, the certificates were invalidated. Letters sent to the affected restaurants instructed them to re-certify their managers within 60 days, this time by passing a legitimate test.

Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the occupational and environmental health director of the DPH, said he has brought the situation to the attention of state health officials and his counterparts in California’s 57 other counties. He explained that some persons holding the unearned certificates might have moved to jobs elsewhere in the state. Neither he nor the department specified the time frame during which the suspect certificates were awarded.

His department called the situation and its investigation “unprecedented.”

In announcing the situation, the DPH noted that two of the test administrators “are no longer employed with the City,” and the third is still being investigated. One news report asserted that the two ex-employees are being fined.

Press reports indicated that the affected restaurants were mostly chain-affiliated places.

There were no indications of anyone having gotten sick as a result of the certification problems.

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