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Food safety inspectors play a crucial role

By The Auxiliary Services Team

This summer is a time of transition for the campus dining program here at the University of Houston. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be busy telling you all about the wonderful changes that are taking place.

In the meantime, we thought now is as good a time as any to provide a little insight into what is and will always be the number one priority of the dining program: food safety.

All of the dining establishments here on campus are subjected to food safety inspections. Because the UH campus is state property, the food outlets here fall under state jurisdiction rather than the city. That means state food safety specialists conduct the health inspections. UH has two such inspectors – Karla Acosta and Christina Martinez – who are a part of the UH Fire Marshal’s office under the larger umbrella of the Environmental Health and Life Safety Department.

The pair are like any other food safety inspector across the state of Texas. They receive the same training and certification. They follow the same rules and procedures. They use the same forms and look for the same violations.

Each food outlet on campus – which includes the dining halls, retail establishments, C-stores, food trucks and the catering program – gets inspected a minimum of once per semester. That includes the summer for those locations that are open. Last semester, night inspections were added to the two dining halls, meaning they get inspected a minimum of six times a year.

What do they look for?

None of the dining outlets knows in advance when an inspection will take place. They are all unannounced.

“We purposely go during their busiest hours so we can see how well they follow food safety practices during those times,” Acosta said. “Campus safety is our biggest priority, and so we hold everyone to the highest standard. We love UH. Anything that can compromise the safety of the students or the rest of the UH community needs to be identified by us so steps can be taken to correct it.”

Every establishment goes into an inspection with a score of 100. Each health violation that Acosta or Martinez finds leads to points being deducted.

They follow the Texas Food Establishment rules, which is what every health inspector in the state of Texas follows. It is 200 pages of codes and regulations. Some violations are considered priority items and result in three points being deducted from an establishment’s overall score. Others are worth two points and still others are one point.

If, for example, chicken is being stored at the wrong temperature in a cooler, that is considered a priority level violation under the state guidelines and results in a deduction of three points.

Some violations require immediate corrective measures. One example of this type of violation is not having a sanitizer bucket with the correct sanitizer strength level for killing bacteria on surfaces. That has to be taken care of immediately once pointed out by the inspectors.

At the end of each inspection, Acosta and Martinez go back to their office and fill out the inspection form. The completed form – including the final inspection score – is given to the managers of the location.

Any score that falls above 90 and does not include any critical violations does not require a followup inspection. All others do. Martinez and Acosta will return in a few weeks to see if the violations have been corrected or that measures are being taken to resolve the issue.

“Let’s say we found a cooler that was not keeping the proper temperature. We want to see that a work order has been submitted showing they are working to correct the violation,” Martinez said.

The pair also regularly attend Food Service Advisory Committee meetings, providing updates on the health scores and any issues they may have discovered during recent inspections.

Cougar Paw ScoresWhere to find the scores

The latest inspection scores for each of the food establishments are posted online on the Environmental Health and Life Safety’s website. Here is a link to the spring semester health scores.

Currently, the scores are posted using a “Cougar Paw” system. In other words, if an establishment received a score between 95 and 100, it gets five Cougar Paws. A score between 90 and 94 is equal to four Cougar Paws, while 80 to 89 is three Cougar Paws. A score of 70 to 79 earns only two Cougar Paws, while a score 70 equates to only one Cougar Paw.

Acosta said there has been some discussion about possibly changing the Cougar Paw system and having the actual number score of all the food establishments posted online.

If that were to change, we'll make sure to let you know!


posted: Wednesday, June 7, 2017