By Kristina Michel
When faculty, staff and students drop by the Student Center for a quick bite or one of the campus dining halls for lunch, they’re looking to relax and unwind before the next class or going back to work. Food safety is usually the farthest thing from their minds. Fortunately, Christina Martinez is here to worry about that so that the UH community doesn’t have to.
As a food safety specialist with the Department of Environmental Health & Life Safety, it’s Martinez’s job to make sure that all University-owned food establishments, including the Student Center, Student Center Satellite, Fresh Food Company at Moody Towers, Cougar Woods, Einstein’s Bagels at PGH and the many C-Store locations throughout campus, are maintaining the highest quality standards in food safety by performing inspections at least once per semester.
“We inspect all the establishments at least once a semester, but I try to inspect the big four establishments – Fresh Food Company, Cougar Woods, the SC and the SC Satellite – at least twice a semester,” Martinez said. “It can be a weird job sometimes, but overall it’s really interesting and fun. I enjoy it.”
As part of her inspections, Martinez checks each establishment to make sure all the food in storage is fresh and the correct temperature. If anything has passed its expiration date, she helps ensure it’s properly disposed of. She also checks to make sure all the food service stations are clean and that employees are maintaining proper sanitation standards.
“We make sure that hand-washing stations are accessible and conveniently located for the employees and that they’re wearing gloves and hairnets,” Martinez said. “We want to make sure that everyone on campus is eating safely.”
Martinez started her job as a food safety specialist back in July. Though she’s relatively new to the position, Martinez is hardly new to UH. She graduated from UH in the fall 2012 semester with a bachelor’s in mathematical biology.
“Basically, I use math to solve biological problems,” said Martinez. “I thought the degree was going to be more about the biology side, but there’s a lot of math involved too. You don’t realize how much the two fields coincide.”
While studying, she also worked as a student office clerk in the UH Police Department. After graduating, she continued working for the department until she learned from a colleague of the job opening for food safety specialist. Seeing it as an opportunity to apply what she studied, she applied for the position.
“I see myself applying what I learned all the time at this job,” Martinez said. “A lot of the basics for food safety stem from time and temperature. It may seem like a minor thing, but once food is removed from those two controls, it leaves a window for bacteria to grow. This is something I have to keep in mind when conducting an inspection.”
Martinez says her favorite part about her job is how much of campus she gets to see. “I’m out and about a lot more with this job, so I get to see more of the campus,” said Martinez. “It’s nice because it reminds me of my time as a student.”
When she’s not working, Martinez enjoys reading and spending time with her family. She is the youngest of four children, and she especially enjoys spending time with her nieces and nephews whenever she can.