Since beginning my time with Cooperative Extension, I frequently get calls from those in the food service industry needing a “ServSafe course ASAP!” due to an expired or soon to be expired certification. You might stop reading here because you have no concern about food safety or the food service industry, but hang in there, you should be concerned about food safety and the trainings that local food establishments can attend to keep us safer.

Why is it important? The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention estimate that one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases. Those calls I receive are inquiring about trainings we offer through NC Cooperative Extension that help them purchase, receive, handle, prepare and store food more safely.

For years we have offered ServSafe trainings but within the last year, we have been transitioning over to a new food safety course known as Safe Plates. Safe Plates is a Food Protection Manager Certification course created by NC State University in conjunction with NC Cooperative Extension. Safe Plates prepares managers for the National Registry of Food Safety Professionals Certification Exam and is approved by the American National Standards Institution (ANSI). Of course after explaining this new training to interested parties, I invariably hear, “Is that the same as ServSafe?” Glad you asked.

ServSafe and SafePlates are both accredited by ANSI and meet the FDA Food Code 2013 requirement for a Certified Food Protection Manager. Safe Plates is the NC Extension brand and is rooted in behavior-change rather than just memorization of answers and regurgitation of information. Safe Plates is recognized across the United States and upon passing a national exam, the certification is good for five years. Managers and food industry staff trained in Safe Plates are equipped to create an environment that minimizes food safety risks in their food establishments through best practices, open communication and practical, science and regulatory-based knowledge.

Who should take the Safe Plates course? Anyone who is a manager in the food service industry, person in charge, or anyone looking to further their food safety knowledge, is encouraged to take the course. North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents offer Safe Plates regularly in partnership with the local health department. Here in Catawba County, Cooperative Extension maintains close communication with Scott Carpenter at Environmental Health. Scott is the Food and Lodging Environmental Health Supervisor in our county. I encourage participants to communicate with Environmental Health when they have questions. Oftentimes, Environmental Health employees are feared by people in the food service industry, but our Environmental Health team is here to ensure that those who frequent local food service establishments have safe food to eat.

I hope this has got you thinking more about food safety as it relates to you as a consumer and/or you as employed in the food service industry.

If you or someone you know needs to be certified as a Food Protection Manager, please contact the Catawba County Cooperative Extension office at 828-465-8250. You can also contact me via email at to get more information.

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