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Idaho Food Inspector On Restaurants During COVID-19: 'Everyone's Very Aware'

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Health safety, and food safety in particular, is getting plenty of scrutiny as Idaho restaurants prepare their plans to reopen in the next step of Governor Brad Little's four-phase plan to restart Idaho's economy.

Tyler Jordan, an environmental health specialist with the Central District Health Department, spends his days behind the kitchen doors of hundreds of Treasure Valley restaurants, and he confirms that he and his colleagues will be reviewing scores of reopening plans to be submitted by eateries in the coming days. Jordan spent some time with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about his day-to-day responsibilities and the overall safety of most restaurants who, in his words, "do a very, very good job."

“Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, it's, "Oh, where can I go?"

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio news. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Food and how we access food has taken on a new urgency, and more than ever we're concerned about all of the safety levels regarding our food. How it's processed, how it's prepared, how it's delivered. So we're going to talk about that this morning with Tyler Jordan. He is an environmental health specialist with the Central District Health Department and he joins us live via zoom this morning. Tyler, good morning.

TYLER JORDAN: Good morning, thanks for having me.

PRENTICE: Tyler, is there any added risk to what you do for a living, now in the current environment?

JORDAN: At this time I don't really see any added risk. I think a lot of the establishments that we're frequently going to and doing inspections are doing a very good job as far as keeping their employees safe, keeping people that come in for pick up very safe, and keeping the social distance guidelines, as well as washing their hands, sanitizing frequently touched surfaces. So I don't really see any added risk. I think everyone's doing a very good job given what's going on.

PRENTICE: Just out of curiosity, does a consumer's complaint go ultimately to the Public Health District?

JORDAN: Yes. So when a consumer complaints, they do call the local Health District that they are complaining about the establishment in. It then gets routed to the inspector for that area and then they will do an investigation. They'll call the consumer to get more information and then they will do an onsite investigation at the establishment to make sure that everything is up to code and there's nothing going on.

PRENTICE: How many restaurants are on your list? Is it dozens or scores of restaurants?

JORDAN: Each individual inspector is assigned two zip codes. So for myself, I have 83725 which is BSU's campus and 83642 which is South Meridian. So there's hundreds that we visit every year.

PRENTICE: So we have heard a bit about Governor Brad Little's four-phase plan to reopen Idaho's economy over the next couple of weeks. That involves restaurants if they desire to reopen their dining room. How does that work? Will they communicate through the public health district?

JORDAN: That is correct. So at this time, currently we're working on some guidelines for establishments to follow. And then they will submit plans to reopen their dining room area individually, and then we will review them, and then see if there's any things that we would recommend as far as the guidelines. And then will communicate that back to the establishments, and then let them handle it as they would.

PRENTICE: That sounds like a fair amount of paperwork heading your way in the next couple of weeks.

JORDAN: Yeah, I think everyone's going to do a good job and submit everything. So we'll just see what that's going to look like.

PRENTICE: How common is it for a restaurant to get into some kind of trouble?

JORDAN: I wouldn't say that it's very common at all. With violations, every establishment is pretty willing to work with inspectors on getting them corrected. So it's very uncommon for a restaurant per se to get in trouble.

PRENTICE: And as far as closures, that has to be extremely rare, right?

JORDAN: Yeah. I would say that's the exact phrase that I would use. Extremely rare.

PRENTICE: I am certain that I'm not the first to ask you if you eat out often.

JORDAN: Nope. I get that very often. Even when I go and speak to some classes at BSU, that's usually one of the first questions I get. But I do, I eat out often. A lot of restaurants do very good job and have very unique stuff and that's where I like to go.

PRENTICE: And off the record, and you're not going to drop any names here, but I have to imagine that people ask you which restaurants to avoid too.

JORDAN: Yes. That is one of the most common questions I get as well. Whenever I tell someone what I do for a living, it's, "Oh, where can I go?" 

PRENTICE: Or, "Where should I go?"

JORDAN: Yeah. That's very, very common.

PRENTICE: How would you gauge the overall safety of restaurants in the region that you oversee?

JORDAN: Very good. All restaurants follow the same guidelines, it's the Idaho Food Code. And they all do a very, very good job. Everyone's very aware, they all want to get good inspections. So they all do a very, very good job.

PRENTICE: Talk about essential work, and I assume that you are doing as much as you ever did pandemic or not.

JORDAN: Yeah, we are still out doing inspections. We are still handling pretty much everything that we would normally do. So there's been some difference in tasks for each individual inspector. But we're still doing everything that we can.

PRENTICE: And do you have a passion for this? Do you love what you do?

JORDAN: I do. I think it's very important to get out, and you get to meet new people, and really the best thing about it is building relationships with establishment owners, managers. And so I feel like that's one of the best parts and the most important part to our job.

PRENTICE: He is Tyler Jordan, environmental health specialist with the Central District Health Department, one of the busiest men in Idaho. Tyler, stay safe, stay healthy. Thank you for what you do and thank you for joining us.

JORDAN: Thank you for having me.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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