The Cobb & Douglas Public Health, Center for Environmental Health launched an innovative television program known as the “Food Safety Partnership Panel” that enhances food safety practices beyond regulatory requirements and strengthens our partnership with the food service industry and community. Each episode’s panel consists of one or more representatives from the food service industry, a consumer that resides within the community, and an Environmental Health manager, who serves as the host. What initially started out as a one time tabletop discussion of the most common food safety violations observed in restaurants turned into an ongoing series in which viewers are able to explore current, locally identified, real world issues that continually challenge food safety in our community, whether it’s at a local restaurant or in a viewer’s home. These issues are highlighted via the use of situational dramatizations coupled with an open panel discussion to produce an end-product that enhances knowledge and encourages change in our viewers. The completed partnership panel episodes may be viewed and used by the food service industry, general public, and regulators as both a resource for the application of food safety principles and as general infotainment. As each episode is completed, it is subsequently broadcast on local government access cable channels (Cobb TV23 and DCTV23) and made available for on-demand viewing on the Cobb & Douglas Public Health, Cobb TV23, and DCTV23 websites.
Click here for a Food Safety Partnership Panel Highlights Video ORGANIZATION
District 3, Unit 1: Cobb-Douglas Health District
Food Safety Partnership Panels: Using Television to Boost Access to Public Health Information
The Cobb & Douglas health district is a diverse community located northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Based on 2014 statistics from the US Census Bureau, Cobb County has a population of about 730,981 people of which 53.9% are white, 27.3% Black or African American, 12.7% Hispanic, 5.1% Asian, and 1% other ethnicities. Douglas County has a smaller population of about 138,776 persons of which 44.9% are white, 43.5% Black or African American, 8.9% Hispanic, 1.7 % Asian and 1% other ethnicities. We have over 2,200 permitted food service establishments in our district. Click here for CDC compiled foodborne illness outbreak data for Georgia.
Cobb & Douglas Public Health seeks to keep the lines of communication open within our diverse community, but this can be difficult with the regulatory component of public health. The Food Safety Partnership Panels help us to do that by seeking input and providing representation from the food service industry, consumers, and regulators as we explore current issues in food safety that are being faced by all of the parties seated at the table. These issues are brought to light by incorporating skits and illustrations to help bring focus on the message at hand and spark discussion among the panel participants. The sharing of individual experiences allows the content to become more relatable to the viewers, thus offering them a better understanding of what can often be complex topics. Additionally, deeper discussion among the panel participants will often bring to light other food safety issues that are either in need of a resolution or need be explored further in order to effect change. In an effort to align with Standard 7 (Industry and Community Relations) of the FDA’s Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards, we have been able to foster communication and information exchange among industry representatives, regulators, and consumers through these panels. [We passed independent audits for compliance with Standard 7 in 2011 and 2015] We not only present information on food safety, but also food safety strategies and interventions to help control risk factors, achieve regulatory compliance, and promote a better understanding of expectations between the food industry, regulatory agency, and community.
The Partnership Panels have been a great vehicle for conveying information to a large number of people at one time, as they are available daily via Cobb TV-23, which serves over 200,000 households; and at select times via Douglas TV-23, which reaches 34,000 households. The primary target audiences for our panels are food service operators and our regulatory partners, such as state Environmental Health staff, the Georgia Department of Agriculture, and the FDA. Upon completion of a panel, an e-mail notification goes out to the food service operators in our database—as well as our regulatory partners--to let them know that a new panel is available for viewing, as well as the topic being discussed. We show the panel during staff meetings and share them during our ServSafe Food Safety Management Training classes that we present at least 3 - 4 times a year. Our food service operators and regulatory partners are able to download the Partnership Panels for local use via our agency’s Vimeo account, and they can be viewed at any time through the Cobb & Douglas Public Health website.
Click here to view complete episodes of all Food Safety Partnership Panels
We have produced eight partnership panels at a frequency of at least 2 per year—with our 9th recording planned for November 2015. The topic for each panel reflects a food safety issue that requires attention or additional emphasis as determined by current observations by staff in the field, comments from consumers, questions received from operators, or a combination thereof. The following is a list of topics that have been discussed in past Food Safety Partnership Panels: The Top 5 Food Service Inspection Violations; Serving High Risk Populations; Food Defense; Multi-Cultural Food Safety Challenges and Opportunities; Live Animals in Food Service; Special Food Operations: Featuring Mobile Food Service Operations; Food Allergen Awareness/Response to Emergencies in Food Service; Personal Hygiene and Employee Health. Each of these panels has resulted in better communication with food service operators and has enhanced their compliance with our regulations, as quite a few of them have triggered the development of additional tools to assist our staff and food service operators with food safety compliance.
The Food Safety Partnership Panels illustrate that Environmental Health messaging doesn’t have to stop with an inspection or a site visit. Television is one of the more effective means of conveying information to the general public; however, it can be rather unnerving to sit in front of a camera and deliver your content. This practice highlights the strength of partnerships. While television may seem out of reach to the average public health staff, but it’s a great example of what can be accomplished when you utilize partners outside of public health. A local health department may not have its own television studio, but their local county government may have one. Government access channels are often starving for content, so their programming manager may be very eager to consider a well-articulated proposal from their nearby Environmental Health Specialist. An Environmental Health manager made such a call to Douglas County TV23 in 2010, and it has resulted in a vital partnership that continues to this day. The only cost to our agency is the time it takes to develop an episode outline, recruit guests, and record the show.
As the series has progressed, the episodes have become more dynamic with the addition of scenario reenactments featuring Environmental Health staff, live animals, and content recorded outside the confines of the television studio. The continued success of these episodes has given our program a distinct platform where even the casual channel surfer can get a taste of what Environmental Health has to offer. Staff also has the opportunity to participate in something that’s both career enriching and fun.
Regardless of a particular episode’s topic, the ultimate outcome of the panel has been to enhance communication and understanding among the food service industry, regulatory partners, and consumers, with an emphasis on food safety principles and the steps necessary to reduce foodborne illness risk factors. The panel discussions are able to be revisited and shared for the training purposes of Environmental Health staff, as well as the staff of food service facilities.
A brief summary of the individual panels, including their highlighted issue(s) and outcomes are listed below:
(1) The Top 5 ViolationsOur 13 food service inspectors were asked to inform our Food Program management of the top 5 most common violations found in their respective areas. The top 5 were: improper cold holding, improper food separation and protection, food contact surfaces not cleaned and sanitized, wiping cloths improperly stored and used, along with hand washing stations not being properly supplied.
(2) Serving High Risk PopulationsAs Food Program standardization exercises were being conducted with our staff, it was evident that our facilities serving highly susceptible populations needed more clarity as to when pasteurized shell eggs or liquid pasteurized eggs were required and guidance as to which food items such facilities are prohibited from serving. We also had received quite a few complaints regarding the need for allergen awareness. Customers reported very close calls after they-- or a family member-- had received a food containing an allergen although they had inquired with wait staff as to its presence prior to eating at a restaurant. We realized that we couldn’t wait for allergen awareness training to be added to our regulations before addressing the issue with operators.
Scenarios were presented for each of these topics. The panel discussion triggered our development of a tool for staff to better assess compliance whenever a new facility serving highly susceptible populations opens or has a change in management. As for allergen awareness, we added information on our website to educate operators and the public about the most common food allergens. Staff also became more aware of the need for more effective allergen assessments and began asking more thorough questions during inspections. They also began reminding food service operators that it was important to incorporate allergen awareness training for their staff and that this would eventually become a part of our updated regulations.
(3) Food Defense Food defense is a topic that is often overlooked by most food service operators. This panel concentrated on inspector impersonation, protection of food during self-service, intentional contamination, and food defense. We received reports of a particular area of Cobb County with a high density of ethnic food service facilities that was being targeted by someone impersonating a health inspector. We started the panel discussion off with a scenario based on the information shared by one of our operators about their own experience with an inspector impersonator.
In response to the issue of customers dipping their fingers in dressings at salad bars, amongst other examples of improper conduct, we provided important “dos and don’ts” for both guests and food service staff to help promote protection of self service food.
(4) Multi-Cultural Food Safety Challenges and Opportunities The global marketplace is rapidly making its way into our local food service establishments. Inspectors were not only encountering unfamiliar ethnic foods on menus, but also different languages and cultures represented in the same establishment, which required further guidance in effective communication. For example, the inspector might enter an establishment serving an Asian cuisine, with Asian staff in the front of the house and Hispanic staff in the kitchen. The panel’s discussion and demonstration covered some of the unusual food and food processes, language barriers, and relevant cultural “dos and don’ts”.
A scenario was presented that depicted an Environmental Health Specialist taking the temperatures of Kosher/Halal foods with a non-dedicated thermometer, which resulted in an awkward situation. The accompanying discussion resulted in practical solutions being shared that could be applied in a variety of situations involving ethnic foods and cultural differences.
After a subsequent viewing of this panel by attendees of a food safety managers training, many of them realized that some of the things that may have seemed disrespectful to them during inspections were just a matter of the inspector not being aware of their cultural differences and/or beliefs. As a result, the comfort level in the field on both sides has really shown improvement. This topic sparked so much interest among our staff and neighboring health districts that we hosted a full day of ethnic food and cultural awareness training that included many Environmental Health attendees from throughout the Atlanta metro area.
(5) Live Animals in Food Service We had already noticed an increase in complaints from restaurant customers in a particular section of Cobb due to dogs being allowed on patios and workers interacting with them while serving tables without washing their hands. However, when the second of two local restaurants found themselves involved in litigation since they did not allow service animals in their facility, other than Seeing Eye dogs, we were prompted to present a Partnership Panel on what live animals were allowed in a restaurant. One of the guest panelists for this episode was a professional trainer of service animals who spoke about the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to service animals and their entry into food service establishments.
(6) Special Food Operations: Featuring Mobile Food Service Operations Mobile food service units have been a continual challenge for our Environmental Health team; however, our district went from having only 9 mobile food service units in 2010 to having more than 50 in 2015. Our staff was becoming overwhelmed due to the various types of units that were being presented and the fact that there was a growing desire in the district from consumers to have mobile food truck events. We went from having no mobile food truck events to having more than 8 recurring events—assembling on the average of once a week per season. This prompted a need to provide information as to what the minimum requirements were to have a mobile food unit, the limitations as to where they can legally vend, vehicle safety and parameters for mobile food truck events and catering operations.
After a release of the episode, along with additional postings on our website, more potential mobile food operators contacted our office, inquiring how to get into the business legally. We have not noticed an increase in the calls regarding caterer permits though.
(7) Food Allergen Awareness/Response to Emergencies in Food ServiceWe felt the need to put more emphasis on food allergen awareness after attending a conference given by the State of Georgia in which a nationally known proponent for allergen awareness training and food allergen labeling spoke and told of her personal story and challenges regarding food allergies. We presented another scenario to spark discussion by the panel. We also went further in this discussion and addressed what to do in the event that there is a reaction to an allergen or if someone is choking (or needs other medical assistance) while dining in a food service establishment. The State of Georgia requires that all food service facilities post a choking aid poster in clear view of dining patrons; thus, the episode offered a reminder of that requirement and directed viewers to our website for downloadable choking posters and other resources. The episode also resulted in our inspectors realizing that they had not been looking for the choking aid posters as much as when they first started inspecting the facilities in their assigned areas. Quite a few noticed that some of the facilities no longer had the signage posted—whether due to renovation, painting of the walls, or someone just taking the poster down. This emphasis resulted in more choking posters getting posted, and it provided another opportunity to remind food service operators to seriously consider allergen awareness training for their staff. The requirement for allergen awareness training will be included in our updated Food Service Regulations effective November 1, 2015.
(8) Personal Hygiene and Employee HealthAs a result of recent research from the state Environmental Health office, it was determined that throughout the state of Georgia, many employee health policies were not in complete compliance with state rules and regulations—even in establishments that had been evaluated as being in compliance during a routine inspection. We reviewed the components with staff to make sure that the inspectors were all on the same page locally regarding employee health assessment and included that as an area of concentration for the panel, as well as the need for effective handwashing and good personal hygiene (key factors in the spread of viral foodborne illness). To spark conversation, we used a scenario that depicted a manager observing an employee blowing into plastic sandwich bags in order to open them up and then placing deli meat inside of them. [That was something that had been observed in the field quite frequently during that time.]
We’ve been able to use excerpts from this episode in other presentations related to employee health and personal hygiene (Click here for an example). This content was also included in a webinar in June 2015 that was presented at the request of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
The Food Safety Partnership Panels have been recognized on several occasions for their unique and innovative way of drawing attention to important food safety issues affecting our Cobb & Douglas health district. In 2013, the Georgia Food Safety and Defense Taskforce asked our program manager to present our “innovative” use of the Partnership Panel to its membership, which consisted of local and State Environmental Health regulators, State and Federal Department of Agriculture regulators, FDA Retail Food Specialists and Emergency Response staff members, academia and consumer representatives. We were again asked to present at the FDA’s 2014 Southeastern Region Program Standards Conference in Savannah, GA, with the Partnership Panel being referred to as an innovative way of meeting the FDA’s Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program's Standard 7. In April of 2015, the Environmental Health Innovation Award was received from the Georgia Public Health Association due to the positive impact of the Food Safety Partnership Panels.
A theme that has been consistent throughout our department in regard to Food Safety is that “we’re all in this together.” That spirit is the piece of the puzzle that has made the Food Safety Partnership Panels such a success. In order for us to even record the first panel, we needed the commitment of Douglas Communications as well as the panel participants. It was important that all involved parties were comfortable with their roles and expectations. [We found that if people are unclear of your motives, they will be more reluctant to participate in something like this.] When we initially discussed having the first panel, we were not under the impression that it would be a long term project. After we received such a positive response to our first panel from viewers and staff, a light bulb went off, and we could see the potential of enhancing the panels by adding scenarios and other interjections to address compliance issues that staff observed in the field that could not typically be resolved through routine dialogue and enforcement. Other identified as needs, such as food allergen awareness, had not yet become a part of our regulations; however, we had the opportunity to convey the importance of this information to our viewers so that they could consider its early implementation as a public health safeguard. The panels were found to not only boost current efforts towards compliance and effective communication among the entities involved but, after the discussions, the panels often led to more in-depth investigations and efforts towards viable solutions. We will elaborate upon the outcomes of three of the Partnership Panels:
(1) Food Defense
This panel concentrated on inspector impersonation, protection of food during self-service, intentional contamination, and food defense. We received reports of someone contacting food service facilities after normal working hours in a particular area of Cobb County and stating that he was from the health department and that it was time for their inspection. The area that appeared to have been targeted had quite a few ethnic facilities. A couple of the operators allowed the inspector impersonator in and we were informed that one paid money for an alleged fine for non-compliance. This occurred around the time that inspectors had attended training regarding the FDA’s Food Defense program and felt the need to inform operators and the general public about the components of this program. The FDA’s Food Defense program provides training for food service operators to aid them in guarding against an intentional attack upon their food supply. A scenario based on the inspector impersonation incident initiated the panel’s discussion. Important safety principles were shared and the discussion revealed areas that one of the participants acknowledged were a breach in food defense at the establishments he managed. Subsequently, he committed on camera to correcting these breaches. Another panel member admitted that he and his staff had viewed the presence of a clipboard as a means of validating the identity of a health inspector instead of viewing an agency issued ID. The episode included practical guidelines and facts that operators and workers should be made aware of in regard to verification of a health inspector’s identity and his or her expected conduct. As the panel concluded, the viewers were directed to the FDA’s website to obtain more information regarding plans for Food Defense, including their Food Defense CD.
In conjunction with the Partnership Panel’s emphasis on Food Defense, our inspectors emphasized with restaurant operators the importance of verifying the identity of anyone that is allowed access their food service operation. We ordered copies of the FDA’s Food Defense CD to distribute to students in our Food Safety Management classes, and directed them to the FDA’s website to get more information on Food Defense. Since the release of that panel, we have not received any other reports of inspector impersonation. In addition, we were notified by a regional food consultant from the State Environmental Health office that our emphasis on inspector identification was working in that, during the time he was hoping to use facilities in Cobb County as ones for his FDA standardization, some of the operators denied him access due to his identification not looking like that of local inspectors. (2) Multi-Cultural Food Safety Challenges and Opportunities
With the increase in the number of ethnic facilities in the district over the past 10 years, our inspectors have been faced with certain unique challenges that are associated with them. Some of the these challenges have been the assessment of unfamiliar foods, language barriers [as mentioned before, there may be multiple languages spoken in the same establishment], and cultural specific norms. After the presentation of a scenario regarding a typical real world occurrence that may have resulted in either party being offended, the panel members were able to come up with practical solutions that could be implemented by both the operator and the inspector. The panel’s discussion also covered some of the unusual food or food processes, language barriers, and the need to become aware of cultural “dos and don’ts”.
The panel included Dr. Yao-wen Huang, a Professor of the University of Georgia, along with the owner of a Halal establishment. The episode’s scenario depicted an EHS taking the temperatures of Kosher/Halal foods with a non-dedicated thermometer resulting in a quite a bit of food being thrown away because it had now been contaminated according to the operator’s beliefs. The discussion resulted in practical solutions being shared that could be applied in the field when faced with a variety of ethnic foods and cultural differences. The comfort level in the field on both sides has really shown improvement. This topic sparked so much interests among not only our staff but of neighboring districts that we hosted a whole day of ethnic food and cultural awareness training for our staff and other EHS in the Atlanta metro area. The training included representatives from Kennesaw State University’s Multi-cultural Center who shared their cultural specific norms (including Cultural Dos and Don’ts During Communication) followed by training presented by our regional FDA Retail Food Specialist in Ethnic Foods and Processing. The details of the program were shared with Fulton County Environmental Health at the request of their Public Health Educator to use, as he was trying to duplicate a program for his staff.
(3) Live Animals in Food Service
Within a six month period, management from two local restaurants made incorrect choices when addressing the presence of dogs in their facilities. Although the customers involved informed them that their dogs were service animals, they said that they were not allowed in the facilities because they believed that the law regarding the allowance of service animals in restaurants only applied if the customer was blind. We had also received quite a few complaints from an area of Cobb County that received a lot of foot traffic and persons sitting on the patios to restaurants with their dogs. Plus, the complaints stated that employees were handling the dogs then returning to wait on customers without washing their hands. This was a concern due to the increased possibility of disease transmission. After responding immediately with notifications to the involved operators and posting information on our website, we developed a partnership panel on “Animals that Are and Are Not Allowed in Foodservice” so that we could bring clarification in these areas. In this case, the operators that did not allow the service animals misinterpreted our foodservice regulation’s stance on service animals, especially in regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act. The operators wanted to comply with the law—and wanted to keep customers happy on both sides--but they did not fully understand the law. It also became clear that many regulatory staff did not understand the full applicability of the ADA laws.
Additionally, being able to hear from a professional trainer of service animals who was well-versed in ADA laws and their application helped spur confidence in food service operators and regulators. The trainer also provided clarification for the general public. For example, it was made clear that emotional support animals are not classified as service animals; therefore, operators were correct in not allowing them in the food service facilities, even when customers would argue that they were covered under the same laws as service animals.
The special attention to animals in food service helped answer a lot of questions in just 30 minutes. We also provided other resources, including the contact information for the ADA at the end of the program for those desiring more information on laws related to service animals. We have not received any more complaints of dogs being allowed in dining areas since the program first aired. Every once in a while we will receive a question regarding service animals, and now our staff are able to respond to those questions with confidence and can provide a direct link to view that particular Partnership Panel.
As often is the case, the information provided in this program would also benefit other health districts. Other districts were notified of the availability of this episode when it first aired. Afterward, we were notified by the Food Program Manager of DeKalb County, that after she viewed the episode herself, she then required all of her staff to view it. That was the ultimate compliment.
Partnership Panel Development:
The panel size is limited to four people due to the limited size of the set on which the recording takes place. We have many food service operators and owners that are very committed to food safety and wanting to make a positive difference, thus, it is seldom difficult to find willing participants. We have, actually, made the decision to delay an operator’s participation if another facility in its chain was recently represented on a panel. We continue to make a conscious effort to not come across as promoting one food service operation over the other and have had representation from various facility types, including fast-food, casual dining, and assisted living. The panel members are normally selected with the topic of discussion in mind. Usually, there will be two food service establishment owners/operators, one consumer representative and one regulatory representative. Offers of participation are extended to people in the food industry and consumer representatives via e-mail, our Food Safety blog, during our food safety management classes, and in person. In addition, an invitation is also given at the end of each recorded Partnership Panel episode. Please note the following representation:
Panel 1- The Top 5 Violations: 1 casual dining food service manager, 1 consumer, and 2 regulatory representatives
Panel 2 - Serving High Risk Populations: 1 casual dining food service manager, 1 nursing home kitchen manager, 1 consumer, and 1 regulatory representative
Panel 3 - Food Defense: 1 casual dining manager (American cuisine), 1 casual dining manager (Mexican cuisine), 1 consumer, and 1 regulatory representative
Panel 4 - Multi-Cultural Food Safety Challenges and Opportunities: 1 Halal food service manager, 1 Food Science professor (Asian), 1 consumer, and 1 regulatory representative
Panel 5 - Live Animals in Food Service: 1 regional food service manager, 1 director/assistance dog trainer, 1 disabled consumer, 1 regulatory representative
Panel 6 - Special Food Operations (Featuring Mobile Food Service): 1 incubator-catering facility director, 1 director of a shared mobile food service facility, 1 consumer, and 1 regulatory representative
Panel 7 - Food Allergen Awareness/Response to Emergencies in Food Service: 2 casual dining food service managers, 1 consumer (parent of a child with food related allergies), and 1 regulatory representative
Panel 8 - Personal Hygiene and Employee Health: 1 fast food service owner, 1 casual dining owner, 1 consumer, and 1 regulatory representative
The food service program manager is committed to securing participants and providing a script of the topics to be discussed. The script usually comes together by assessing current food safety issues observed by staff. Most of the scenarios used in the panels are based on an incident that recently happened.
The participation of Environmental Health staff the scenarios has been voluntary; however, there has not been a challenge in getting volunteers. Our team members have enjoyed tapping into their acting skills.
The Douglas County Government and Cobb County Government have been very supportive of the panels. Douglas Communications has routinely offered the services of its camera crew to film and edit the program. They also offer the use of their studio and have filmed off-set as well. That support is invaluable when you observe the quality of their work. Cobb TV-23’s support was initially guarded in that they did not have a set time during which the Partnership Panel would be shown. In 2013, Cobb & Douglas Public Health was notified that the partnership panels would have a dedicated time slot every day of the week on Cobb TV-23. That commitment has been kept, and Cobb TV-23 will show a previous Partnership Panel again for a defined period of time at our request.
Regarding challenges, one of the biggest challenges has been the factor of time. Although the panel is small, coordinating the schedules of the panel members, scenario participants, and studio time is sometimes a challenge. The time needed to commit the script to paper is a challenge as well; especially, when working around peak workload seasons. However, no participant has voiced regret regarding participation. The end result has made the efforts worthwhile.
No capital costs were incurred while developing or implementing the Partnership Panels. Douglas Communications does not charge the department for the filming nor editing of the videos. They also host them on their local station and allow them to be freely shared with Cobb County’s Communication Department for airing.
We will use the MAPP Process to present the evaluation:
Create a healthy community and a better quality of life. Here, a "healthy community" goes beyond physical health alone. The Institute of Medicine notes that "health is…a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities" (Improving Health in the Community, 1997, p. 41). The community that we impact does not just consist of people within our district. We freely share the availability of our Partnership Panel episodes with regulatory staff in other districts as well. The emphasis that we have placed on proper handwashing, employee health, serving high risk populations, and many other areas have helped to keep the food that customers have received from food establishments safe. The panels have helped consumers make more informed choices, being that specific risks and precautions have been pointed out during our discussions. Additionally, these panels have emphasized the importance of food defense measures to protect individuals that may work in establishments that could be targeted for intentional contamination or other purpose that could put them at risk.
Increase the visibility of public health within the community. The Food Safety Partnership Panels are open to the participation of our community in that any person in Cobb or Douglas falls into the category of an operator, regulator, or consumer. Our panels are viewed by various persons for the purpose of education and/or entertainment. We solicit topics for discussion from the community if they would like to have input.Anticipate and manage change. We have already addressed allergen awareness in a couple of the panels and have provided tools to assist in the training that our updated regulations will require on November 1, 2015. Our panel on Special Food Operations presented the concept of a shared/incubator kitchen for caterers. One of the panelists had to apply for a variance from the State to receive a permit in order to have such a facility and she shared some of the specific requirements that they had to meet. This business model will be included in the updated regulations and the requirements are consistent with those presented in the panel episode. The Special Food Operations panel has also served as a resource for individuals wishing to pursue this type of business.
Create a stronger public health infrastructure. We have a diverse network of partners within our local public health system that have helped make this project a success. From the support of our Health Director and Environmental Health Director, to our local Environmental Health Specialists, to those in other counties that support us in spreading information shared in the videos, to the food service operators and citizens that willingly participate and share their experiences, to our State Office of Environmental Health that has shared in the presentations and provided technical consultation assistance, and our local government support via Douglas Communications and Cobb Communications, we have a strong network that puts us in position to handle any type of public health issue pertaining to Environmental Health that may come up.
Engage the community and create community ownership for public health issues. Where there is knowledge there is power. The information shared via the panels helps to equip our operators, regulators and general public with the tools to make informed decisions and to recognize areas for change. The experiences shared by community residents and food service operators that have served on our panels have benefitted the program. Every panel member has voiced that it was a positive experience and that they learned something having as a result of their participation. They walk away more aware of their food safety environment and become advocates for the Food Service Program by helping to share our theme with others: Think Food Safety.
We have learned quite a bit along the way. Each panel is about 30 minutes in length for a reason. If the panels were shorter than that, we would not have been able to adequately address specific issues and if they were longer, many of our targeted audience—our food service operators and regulators—would not take the time to view the whole program. When we first decided to form the panels on a recurring basis, three episodes per year seemed like a worthy target. We quickly realized that that was not a reasonable goal. We cut back the goal to episodes per year. We may form a panel to address issues only twice a year, but that time comes around fast in such a busy district.
Also, we have sometimes found there has been some hesitation on the part of some operators regarding their participation. This occasionally becomes an issue when the food service facility is a part of a chain. To help ease their minds, we let the operators know up front that they will be informed of the topics that will be discussed in advance and that they will have an opportunity to view the end result prior to airing. This has helped ease their minds and made the participants feel more comfortable about sharing more freely.
There has been little cost to our department to host the panels. Both the Cobb and Douglas County governments have shown and expressed their continued commitment to supporting the filming and airing of the panel videos. Their costs are not charged back to our department in any way. Cobb County Communications even moved from just showing the panels once a week to showing the panels every day of the week.
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