Jane Williams, the chef at 209 1/2 restaurant who was quoted in a recent Food Section story on the District food sanitation course, served a three-year apprenticeship and gained certification through the American Culinary Federation. It was incorrectly stated that she attended the Culinary School of Washington.
There are four types of microorganisms, says Clovis Jackson, as he writes their names on the blackboard: mold, virus, yeast, fungi. Bacteria come in three shapes, he continues, drawing circles, rods and squiggles with the chalk: cocci, bacilli, spirilli.
Jackson is not lecturing to a high-school biology class. There will be no slide shows or frog dissections and spelling doesn't matter here. This is a crash course on food sanitation and the students are local restaurant managers and owners, chefs, bartenders and kitchen staff.
After three sessions of approximately one hour, each crammed with information ranging from the dangers of flies to the dangers of improper dishwashing, there will be a test, and those who score a 70 and above will become certified food supervisors.
The course, given by the University of the District of Columbia, fulfills a District government requirement that each of the city's approximately 3,400 restaurants and food establishments have a certified food supervisor trained in protecting the public health on its premises at all times.
According to Ben Johnson, administrator of the District's Building Regulation Administration, restaurants that have a certified food supervisor present are "rarely" closed. Of the 53 restaurants that were closed by the District this past fiscal year, the majority had violated this requirement, Johnson said.
The purpose of the course is to teach proper sanitation in the hopes of warding off foodborne illness, which, according to the class workbook published by the U.S. Public Health Service, is a "major health problem."
The recent salmonella outbreak (which has thus far affected thousands of people in several midwestern states) from milk produced at Hillfarm, a Chicago dairy owned by Jewel Co., is an isolated case of mass proportions. And then there are smaller outbreaks, such as the recent local case of eight persons becoming ill from salmonella poisoning at Middleburg's Red Fox Tavern. But foodborne illnesses occur regularly, on a day-to-day basis, said Dr. Scott Holmberg, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control.
"The public doesn't have a full appreciation of how widespread and pernicious the problem [foodborne illness] is," Holmberg said. For salmonella alone, CDC had approximately 40,000 reported cases in 1983, which Holmberg says represents "the tip of the iceberg" of an estimated two million cases. It's virtually impossible to monitor the exact number of annual foodborne illnesses because only an estimated one percent are reported, the rest being mild or moderate cases in which individuals may not even realize food is the culprit, Holmberg said.
Johnson said the District receives about 100 calls a year from local residents complaining about foodborne illness from a restaurant, but that it is extremely difficult -- and usually a rare occurrence -- when the connection between the food and the illness is substantiated. Frequently, individuals call a day or two after sickness has occurred, said Johnson, and by then the food involved is no longer at the restaurant, plus the individual cannot produce specimens that would identify the guilty bacteria.
But many of the outbreaks of foodborne illness can be prevented by changing the work habits of the food service worker, emphasizes the class workbook. If this class is effective, students should find out how. Day 1, Class Notes
In a dingy classroom on 9th Street, Jackson begins with a brief introduction. Take good notes, he warns the class of about 15 students, which includes the maitre d' and chef at Il Giardino restaurant, the chef at 209 1/2, a bartender at Friendship Station, a cashier at Larry's Cookie Connection, the owner of a local carryout and Stephen Lee of David Lee's restaurant. Pay close attention to chapter two and remember that the test is not hard, but the semantics may be tricky, he says.
Then Jackson moves on to the four conditions for bionary fission (or how disease-producing organisms can grow in food). Time and temperature are two. In food stored at temperatures between 45 and 140 degrees -- the danger zone -- for two to three hours, bacteria begin to grow. A cell also needs something to feed on -- the food itself, which is a factor more dangerous in foods high in protein -- and it also needs moisture, although that condition is not always necessary, he adds.
The lecture moves to cross contamination, or how bacteria is transmitted. Raw foods, good carriers of harmful bacteria, shouldn't touch cooked foods, explains Jackson. Don't use the same knife for cutting a raw food and then a cooked food without sanitizing it first. Watch out for toxic chemicals used to clean food containers, and beware of condensation, such as water dripping from overhead pipes.
Roaches are difficult to alleviate, Jackson explains, but boric acid is probably the best control -- at least until the roaches become immune to it. Flies are probably the most dangerous of all restaurant pests, and you can't take the chance of killing them on a table or cutting board because of the dangerous microorganisms their smeared remains may leave. Get regular trash pick-ups, Jackson stresses.
By the end of the class (which is scheduled for up to two hours, but ends up being about one), Jackson has covered the board with details about two bacteria: staphylococcus aura and salmonella, to be reviewed the next day. Homework: Read lessons one, two and three and answer the questions after each chapter. Day 2, Class Notes
The class has "certainly made me conscious of the microworld," comments one student before the class begins. More of this microworld is to come.
Jackson writes down the types of bacteria, the food sources in which they appear, the source of contamination and the "contributing factors for bionary fission" in columns on the blackboard. Students take notes on each: staphylococcus aura, salmonella, clostridium perfringens, clostridium botulinum, hepatitis, shigellosis dysentary, tuberculosis.
An example of this exercise, a format that Jackson repeats for each bacteria: Staphylococcus aura. Attributed to 50 percent of foodborne illness. Cocci in shape. Produces toxins and boils. Grows well in high levels of salt and sugar (cream-filled pastries, ham and potato salads). Carried by the worker, found on the skin and in hair, nose and throat. Contributing factors for bionary fission: foods left out at room temperature, placement of food in refrigeration in large pots and pans (foods should be stored in small shallow containers).
"Probably the number one food service no-no" is thawing foods at room temperature, says Jackson, as a class volunteer reads through a list of true and false questions in lesson three of the workbook. Instead, thaw in a refrigerator, run the food under cold running water below 70 degrees or cook it, says Jackson. A chorus of confusion spreads through the class.
"I don't think I'm ever going to eat again," blurts out one student. "I thought it was a common practice" to take things out of the refrigerator and put them on the counter, he says. Plus, he tells Jackson, in response to the answers of a few preceeding questions, "I've never seen anybody clean a grinding machine" between slicing different foods and "I've never seen anybody wear plastic gloves" when working with food.
Other questions spark discussion. True or false?
Many of the chemicals used in a food establishment for cleaning and sanitizing are toxic and can make a person ill. True.
One student says ammonia is used to clean the shake machine in her place of employment. Never use ammonia, says Jackson. Use bleach.
Keeping foods "warm" on the back of a range or on a steam table while they are being held for serving is a safe practice. False.
District regulations prohibit keeping foods warm on the back of a range, says Jackson.
Homework for tommorrow: read chapters four through seven and answer the true and false questions.
After class, a few students chat outside the building, among them George Lombardo, manager of the soon-to-be opened Donna Adele restaurant on Dupont Circle, and maitre d' Mario Fazio and chef Antonio Capace from Il Giardino restaurant. When asked, the three say they doubt that most restaurants always have a certified food supervisor on the premises at all times and that some restaurants have found a way to get around this regulation.
Staffers within a restaurant share a single food certification, says a local food shop owner who has previously taken the class. A student who passes the test is sent a certificate. According to the food shop owner, it is not a requirement that the certificate be presented upon inspection, just the certification number. So when the inspector arrives, whichever staffer is on duty will pose as the owner of the certification number.
"We know this goes on," says Arnold Clark, program manager for the District's Business Inspection Division of the Office of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Inspectors are supposed to ask for some identification from the staffer, says Clark, but they "don't always catch" the offense. Day 3, Class Notes
Before class, Shirelle Williams, cashier for Larry's Cookie Connection, says she usually catches on to things quickly, but that this information "didn't stick." She wanted to learn the fundamentals of food sanitation, not all these big words and terms. A film would have been perfect, she says.
Others students agree. Lombardo of Donna Adele restaurant, said it should have dealt with more "realistic" restaurant problems that occur on a "day-to-day basis." It shouldn't have been so technical, "it shouldn't have been 'Biology 101,' " said Lombardo. And Jane Williams, chef at 209 1/2 restaurant, who took a year of food sanitation at the Culinary School of Washington, said the course didn't deal adequately with the process of restaurant inspections and that it "raised more questions than it answered." Stephen Lee, general manager of David Lee's restaurant and the Connecticut Avenue Club, who has taught a food sanitation course elsewhere, said that while it "basically allows people to get the point," UDC's course could be improved with "hands on" experience, perhaps at a local restaurant kitchen.
Still, other restaurateurs who have already completed the class disagree. Kato Shis, the new owner of the Day and Night 24 Hours Delicatessen, said the course was "definitely helpful," that it made him "think about serving other people food." Another food establishment owner was "very impressed with the course," adding that it taught her a lot of things she hadn't known.
In class, after a review, Jackson moves on to the workbook for more true-or-false questions. A class volunteer reads off the questions, the class responds in unison.
From personal hygiene, self protection and salesmanship:
Factors of personality have very little effect upon the impression a food service worker leaves with the patron he serves. False.
The wash water temperature in a dishwashing machine must be maintained between 140 and 160 degrees. True.
On insect and rodent control:
It is relatively easy for cockroaches to infest a food service establishment since they may be brought into the establishment with supplies. True.
After class, Capace from Il Giardino restaurant asks Jackson if the test is given in Italian. It is given in Korean, Chinese and Spanish, Jackson says. Capace decides he might be better off taking it in Spanish than English.
Jackson says the test should be given in other languages -- perhaps Italian, French and an Islamic language -- and that there are a lot of English comprehension problems with understanding the course material itself. Clark of the District government said he "hasn't gotten any indication of need" that the test or course be given in other languages. Day 4, The Test
This crowd, seated every other desk, looks like any group of nervous test takers. The test, a mixture of true and false and multiple choice questions, is distributed, and the students begin.
Finally, the ordeal is over. What did the students think of the test? "It wasn't simple," says Williams of 209 1/2, although she thinks she probably did well on it. "Common sense," says another restaurateur, from a prior class. "It judges what you've read in the book instead of what's really critical," said Stephen Lee of David Lee's restaurant.
Later, Yvonne Wilkerson, a District food inspector, who administers and grades the test, says she doesn't have yearly percentages on how many people fail, but has some examples of failure rates from previous weeks. In this week's group of classes (Jackson teaches two a day), 22 percent of the students failed. The weeks before: 27 percent, 24 percent, 30 percent. Those who fail may take it again. Addendum
The class instructor, Jackson, concurs with Williams' suggestion that a film would be ideal. Jackson, who has a masters degree in education and a bachelors degree in social sciences (with a minor in chemistry), has been teaching the class for three years.
A certain amount of microbiology and teminology is necessary in order for students to "get into the whole spectrum" of sanitation, although there is a lack of consensus about what is really needed in the class, he says. All three phases -- the inspection process, the class and the test -- need to be coordinated, says Jackson, who says he has attended only one District restaurant inspection.
Valerie Lemmie, executive assistant to the director of the District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, says UDC is responsible for giving the course, while the District is responsible for administering the test and distributing the certifications.
But part of the coordination problem lies in the lack of communication between UDC and the District, an "area that could be improved on" says Clark of the District's Business Inspection Division of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. "I think there is communication, but it is limited," says Irvin Gordy, dean of the Division of Continuing Education at UDC.
Gordy says UDC must rely on the District government for input from its supervisors in the field. The course is "cumbersome from an instructional point of view," Gordy admits, although he said suggestions were made two or three years ago to the District about updating the curriculum, but that the school hasn't received the government's response. Gordy said the original curriculum and class workbook were provided by the District, although Clark of the District government says the materials were chosen by UDC.
And Emma Davis, director of short courses and noncredit programs at UDC, who said that the class workbook was published in 1969, said the school holds a class in the standards of restaurant inspection that is given to restaurateurs when they must be recertified after three years.
Lemmie said the courses are the primary responsibility of UDC and that the material covered in the basic sanitation course should be "synonymous" with restaurant inspections. There is "no need to make special attention" to the requirements and details of an inspection, she said.
Lemmie also said that since the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was reorganized two years ago, Gordy's suggestions for updating the curriculum may have passed to an individual no longer involved with the agency. District officials are now planning to meet with UDC officials, said Lemmie, to discuss better coordination of the sanitation class program.