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03/06/2024 08:30 AM

Amy Scholz: Keeping Food Safe at Area Eateries

Amy Scholz heads the East Shore District Health Department’s Environmental Health Division, looking after food safety, water and septic quality, and overall quality control of the federal Food Code for eateries in the towns of Branford, North Branford, and East Haven. Photo courtesy of Amy Schloz

When eating at a favorite local restaurant, patrons need to be ensured that the food they order is safe for consumption and that all conditions at the eatery are up to date and functional. In order to maintain safety and uphold food safety regulations, communities need knowledgeable professionals in this field, like Amy Scholz of the East Shore District Health Department (ESDHD).

If you live in Branford, North Branford, or East Haven, ESDHD is your local health department. Amy has worked at the regional health department since December 2021 and serves as both its deputy director and head of its Environmental Health Division. She earned her undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of New Haven, earned her master’s in public health from Southern Connecticut State University, and is a registered sanitarian.

Through an internship at a health department, Amy found a liking for “seeing all the different divisions and departments” and enjoyed working closely with people in a community that led her to a career in local public health.

“I've done a few different things. I worked in emergency preparedness. I worked in the community health side of things and did community health improvement plans and community health assessments,” Amy says. “The involvement in that and kind of nailing down the needs of the community and then implementing programs to help was definitely a draw for me within the field.”

As the head of the ESDHD’s Environmental Health Division and a registered sanitarian, one of Amy’s main focuses is inspections done through the department’s food service program and ensuring that federal and state regulations are being enforced at restaurants in Branford, North Branford, and East Haven.

“In February 2023, the State of Connecticut officially adopted the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] Food Code. That’s been one of the big projects of the past year in terms of training of staff on the updated code and updated forms that we need to use,” says Amy. “On the flip side, [it’s] working with the restaurant owners to educate on the code and the changes.”

The FDA Food Code is mandated for over 400 permitted food establishments within the ESDHD’s coverage area, all of which are paid a visit by Amy and her sanitarian colleagues at the department to perform risk-based inspections. They will start with “major risk factors” that include “observing proper hand washing of the staff and employees, looking at cooking temperatures,” as well as the “holding temperatures” of food that is stored in hot or cold environments, says Amy.

Amy and her team will also determine if restaurants are in “violation priority foundation” of the federal Food Code that could lead to food-borne illnesses and will inspect cooking equipment, along with the structural integrity and cleanliness of a restaurant’s building, so that any faults do not also lead to illness.

“If you don't have the proper equipment, you may not be able to hold the food at the proper temperature because there's not enough space to keep it in the refrigerator,” says Amy.

Amy adds that problems could also arise “if you don’t have a proper dish machine or three-bay sink to properly sanitize.”

“It’s just making sure that construction is there to be able to kind of meet those standards,” she says.

The effort toward ensuring the safety of food does not stop at local restaurants. Amy and her sanitarians will also inspect food trucks, tents, or booths at major events and festivals in the three towns that the ESDHD serves and give an overview of the “overall food safety guidelines of how to safely operate at those temporary events.”

In tandem with the ESDHD’s lead sanitarian, Amy is looking to coordinate holding ServSafe courses for local restaurant owners and staff to become certified food protection managers—a mandatory part of running their business.

“Depending on the classification of the food establishment, most of them need to have at least one certified food protection manager on site during hours of operation,” Amy says.

Relating back to her internship, what Amy enjoys the most about her job is being involved in the different opportunities within her positions, getting involved with the community, and oversight of code implementation in order to improve the health and safety of the ESDHD’s residents. There’s also always room for improvement through grants and other forms of financial support.

“There's FDA grants that we've applied for to go through retail program standards, which kind of looks at our food program and how we can improve it moving forward,” Amy says. “There’s a lot of opportunity to...go for different grants, implement new programs. That's what I'm looking forward to with my time here.”