‘We don’t want to shut places down’: New health inspector wants to educate rather than penalize whenever possible
Retail food is big business in Grand County with dozens of restaurants ranging from high-end eateries to no-frills food trucks, but up until 2019, all retail food inspections were handled by the state of Colorado.
That has recently changed, however, as the Grand County Public Health Department has created a new environmental health specialist position that will oversee consumer protection issues with a special focus on retail food inspection.
Kathleen Huse is taking on that position.
“I am the person who will be going out and doing routine food inspections, helping people open new restaurants and working with businesses that are doing remodels on their plan reviews,” explained Huse. “We also took over license renewals. So all fees now come to Grand County instead of the state.”
Brene Belew-LaDue, director of Grand County Public Health, said the county has been looking to create this new position, and bring food regulation back to local offices, for the last year-and-a-half.
“This has been in the works for a while,” Belew-LaDue said. “The position was posted in January and it took us from February until essentially August to hire.”
Huse has spent the last few months completing her formal training with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Education. She will oversee food regulation at all restaurants, grocery stores and even at locations like public schools. Her environmental health specialist role means she will inspect food-processing facilities, such as cafeterias and kitchens, along with other elements of schools, such as science labs. According to Huse, there are currently around 200 retail food establishments in Grand County.
Belew-LaDue said it was important to establish the new position to have more local control.
“Environmental health is a core public health service. The state health department was providing this before,” Belew-LaDue said. “But we want to have it at the local level to provide a local quality to it. It gives us local control; we can be more responsive and provide more education. We do not want this to be a punitive type of thing. This is about education and being responsive to retail food providers.”
Huse agreed as she explained education on food safety is a big component to her new job.
“We don’t want to shut places down,” Huse said. “We want to work with them to get the right procedures in place to serve the public safely.”
Food safety concerns are not unheard of in Grand County. In 2010, the county went through a period of concern related to a potential Hepatitis A outbreak related to a retail food worker who was taking part in the annual Buffalo Barbecue in Grand Lake.
“We did not have anyone get seriously sick,” Belew-LaDue said. “We had one initial case and there was no spread of disease that we know of. We immunized over 1,000 people over the course of about two weeks. We are trying to prevent that.”
Now that the new position has been created, public health officials said they plan to begin holding public workshops as the department looks to establish formal rules regulating food vendors at special events, such as music festivals or traveling tours such as Ride The Rockies. Belew-LaDue said announcements regarding dates for those public workshops would be announced soon with the workshops likely being held this spring.
A graduate of Middle Park High School, Huse previously worked as the facilities administrator at Devil’s Thumb Ranch. She is a graduate of Montana State University and has experience working at an environmental consulting firm in Denver.
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