According to Madison Health Director Tommye Schneider, food-service regulation in the city of Madison is topnotch.
But this does not mean that all restaurants, pubs and other food-service establishments in the city stringently operate according to all health regulations.
Most noticeable is the regulation of hair restraints.
Hairnets are not specifically required in Wisconsin; however, some sort of hair restraint is.
Employees are unlikely to be fined for not wearing hair restraints, since it is doubtful that their lack of use will lead to food-borne illness.
Usually, complaints regarding lack of effective hair restraints are filed on a complaint basis.
Health inspectors are mainly concerned with violations that lead to food-borne illness, such as unsafe storing and cooking temperatures and hand-washing.
Although all restaurant managers should know the code, safety seems to be a higher priority than strict adherence to rules.
“Every restaurant operator is supposed to be familiar with the code,” Schneider said. “That doesn’t mean that they are. It’s their responsibility to know the rules, and it’s up to them to correct [the violations].”
The “food code” is a set of laws encompassing all sects of food preparation and service in the city of Madison. A specifically designated state, county or local agency handles regulation and inspection.
The inception of a new food code in February requires the two main regulatory agencies for food service in the state of Wisconsin to abide by the same set of regulations.
The new code was created in order to cover all types of food-operation licenses.
“We wanted the code to be in line with the national code,” Schneider said.
Local agencies like the one found in Madison have the ability to more strictly oversee area establishments than the more broadly reaching regulatory commissions. One agency is assigned to the restaurant industry, and another regulates supermarkets and other food-distribution facilities.
“Washing hands constantly, hair restraints, etc. — it is assumed that you’ll do those things,” said Melvin Ayala, line cook at a Madison dining establishment. “One main thing we must learn is that food has to be stored in a certain manner.”
Food-code violators are referred to the city attorney, where they are prosecuted and fined individually.
Although there is a strict set of health guidelines all Madison restaurants must abide by, eating establishments have the ability to create reputations for themselves with the Department of Health and Family Affairs, which regulates restaurants in the city. Each restaurant in Madison is required to pass one unannounced inspection per year, and additional inspections may be made on a case-by-case basis.
“Depending on the violations that are found during that [annual] inspection, if they’re very few and not serious violations, we may decide that we don’t need to go back again,” Schneider said.
“We try to adapt to the needs of what is required to make a place safe.”
As might be expected, much of the safety protocol followed by food-service workers stems from basic common sense regarding hygiene.
In the year 2000 the city collected $14,000 in fines in 68 cases referred to the city attorney.
“In the city of Madison we have a very strong enforcement system, and we work very closely with our city attorneys,” Schneider said.
This enforcement system appears to be taking effect rather well, as the number of establishments that receive awards each year climbed from approximately 45 to 65 restaurants last year.
Less than six percent of more than 1,000 licensed food establishments in Madison have received Excellence in Food Safety and Sanitation Awards from the Madison Health Department.
Lists of the 2000 winners can be found at www.ci.madison.wi.us/health/index.html