Public Health takes charge of ServSafe

MARSHALL — The public health division of Southwest Health and Human Services will coordinate state-mandated ServSafe instruction for food service managers in its six-county area.

The SHHS board, comprised of representatives from Lyon, Redwood, Murray, Lincoln, Pipestone and Rock counties, approved a proposal from agency staff as part of Wednesday’s monthly meeting. Environmental Health Manager Jason Kloss will begin teaching ServSafe classes and supervising tests later this summer.

Prior to the board’s approval, Kloss explained that operating the program directly will ensure steady class offerings without having to find private vendors.

“We have an opportunity at this point to be in charge of the classes,” Kloss said. “We’ve had some limitations as far as when and where the training is offered. It’s been hit and miss in our region.”

Statewide ServSafe guidelines require everyone who works in a food service supervisory capacity to complete training that covers all specific procedures of safe food handling.

Some of the items covered are proper hand washing, use of clothing such as gloves and aprons, handling of eating utensils, cleaning of counters, and requirements for food storage.

Managers who complete the training can then provide the knowledge to employees. Besides the initial certification, they must complete a re-certification class every three years.

Fees set by the SHHS board will be $140 for the eight-hour class, $40 for the four-hour re-certification, and $70 for each supervised exam.

“We based the fee recommendations on what needs to be charged to cover costs,” Kloss said. “We don’t want to overcharge. It’s being done to offer a resource to the food service providers.”

Board members said the concept should turn into an opportunity to guarantee convenient training opportunities within driving distances of about one hour or less.

“I like it,” said Rock County Commissioner Sherri Thompson. “I’m glad to see that it’s ready to go.”

The board was also updated on progress toward making all six counties paperless in the retention of human services documents.

Marlene Erickson, a human services aide based in Marshall, coordinates the process of scanning and archiving documents. She recently finished sorting through stored documents in Redwood County, which dated as far back as 1915.

After similar updating is completed in Pipestone and Rock counties, the entire service area will be up to date with paperless record retention. State requirements range from keeping records for three years to having them on hand permanently, depending on the type of information they contain.

Erickson spent a total of 108 days on the Redwood County updating process. Costs were kept down as much as possible through bulk scanning (saving an entire file as one document) and assistance with scanner operation and paper shredding from Developmental Achievement Center workers.

“We’ll soon be able to focus just on computer-based monthly updates,” Erickson said. “Everything will be done with just a couple of clicks instead of having to sort through files.”

SHHS Director Beth Wilms said the ongoing records conversion will greatly reduce the amount of paper, storage containers, and storage room space needed to house printed documents.

“We try to be as paperless as possible, but we still go through paper,” Wilms said. “This is an important step toward keeping that to a minimum with the use of technology.”

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board delayed action on amendments to the agency’s personnel policy needed to address Minnesota’s new hands-free driving law that took effect July 1.

Staff presented proposed language that complies with the new laws but that also provides protocol under which the use of mobile technology can legally take place.

As part of discussion, board members asked if it might be better to simply not allow the use of devices when a vehicle is moving.

They noted that failure to follow the correct procedures, either because of human error or out of disregard for what’s legally required, could cause an employee to be cited for a traffic violation. That could, in turn, lead to higher insurance costs paid to the Association of Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust.

“No talking while driving could easily be the policy,” said Lincoln County Commissioner Mic VanDeVere. “If that’s what we expect and everyone’s aware of it, it should work out OK.”

Further input from staff involved concerns about going with a total restriction. Several supervisors noted that mobile devices, when used correctly while driving, can create more efficient use of employee time and greater availability to clients.

The board agreed to table the proposed policy amendments until its August meeting, which will allow staff to present a revised draft designed to strike a balance between insurance factors and goals for client service.

Rock County Commissioner Greg Burger said changes to the personnel policy should allow for how technology leads to questions that didn’t exist as recently as 15 years ago, when “if you were on the road to Duluth, you were on the road to Duluth.”

Board members said they hope policy changes can be finalized in a way that addresses legal requirements but still doesn’t create professional obstacles.

“We have to think about how driving mistakes could lead to costs for taxpayers,” said Lyon County Commissioner Charlie Sanow. “It’s a very real thing and a concern for MCIT. If there would be issues about making some of our staff less able to do their jobs, we need to hear that side of it too.”