By Kat Crockett

SCC Health Director Jeff Terrell recently issued a draft 66-page health code, new fee schedule, and food rating system impacting food establishments county-wide. The county is also adopting the 2017 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code. “The major change in the proposed code will be the requirement for a certified food manager to be on site at all times of operation, as well as the new fee schedule. The basis of the FDA Code has not changed over the years,” said Terrell. 

The proposed fee schedule lists 35 types of establishments from food to garbage trucks, plus 13 “other” fees. Separate fees are established for an annual operating permit, plan review, and minor remodel. Fees will be increased each year from 2023 to 2026. Also new is classifying each food establishment by risk factors from class 1 to class 4. A Class 3, such as The Steak Out in Sonoita, would pay $300 for an annual operating fee now, $550 in 2023 and $650 in 2026, a 116% fee increase in six years. 

A new requirement is for all food establishments to have a person in charge (with food manager certification) on site during all times of operation. Pet friendly patios are also new and require a permit; however, pets will not be allowed in food establishments nor production areas with some exceptions for service animals. 

A kitchen in a private home, such as a small family day care provider or a bed and breakfast operation, if the home is owner occupied, will not be considered a food establishment. However, the number of available guest bedrooms cannot exceed six, breakfast is the only meal offered, the number of guests served is limited to 18, and the consumer is informed in published advertisements, mailed brochures, and placards posted at the registration area that the food is prepared in a kitchen that is not regulated or inspected by a regulatory authority.

A food rating system designed to inform customers on how well the restaurant practices food safety is also new. The ratings are excellent, good, satisfactory, and probationary based on point deductions for violations of 55 listed inspection items. The grade card issued by the county must be posted in a conspicuous place, readily observed by the public upon entering the food establishment.  

According to Terrell, all wineries, breweries and distilleries (WBDs) will now come under the health department’s rules and fees. The 2017 FDA Code classifies wine, beer, and, spirits as a “food”; however, the FDA recognizes that the process of distillation and fermentation kills pathogens and thus poses very low risk to the public for foodborne illnesses.  

Each product of a WBD must have separate production and tasting rooms. According to Terrell, a final decision on permitting tasting rooms separate from production facilities is still pending; the current proposal requires a separate fee for each product’s tasting and production room. For example, a WBD who makes wine and distilled beverages will pay $1,200 per year. WBD fees will be double and triple the fees that restaurants and other food establishments will pay. The largest fee bill will be borne by the industry with a remote possibility of foodborne illnesses

WBDs range in age from over 30 years old to currently being under construction. Facility changes required by the proposed code could be costly. There are no provisions in the draft code for grandfathering establishments with low risk violations of the code that do not pose a threat to the public.  

Regulation 13 of the draft county code provides for appeals and a hearing for adverse action taken or by the health department. The health director will appoint a hearing officer to try the case and provide a recommendation to the health director who makes the final decision.

Although the draft code makes reference to a county board of health the county does not have such a board. Arizona Revised Statute 36-183 states the board of supervisors shall appoint a board of five members consisting of a member of the board of supervisors, a licensed physician, and three citizens who are each a resident of a different supervisorial district. The county director of health shall serve as the secretary to the board. An inquiry regarding compliance with the statute was sent to the county attorney’s office on September18 and is pending a reply.  

The county’s proposed health code, fee schedules, and rating system information is available on their website at https://santacruzcountyaz.gov/.  The period for comments has been extended to October 18, 2019 and can be mailed to the Health Department or emailed to hservices@santacruzcountyaz.gov. The 2017 FDA Food Code is located at https://www.fda.gov/media/110822/download.