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2003 Model Practice Application (Public)

Application Name: 2003 Model Practice Application (Public) : Maricopa County Environmental Services Department : Environmental Health Division - QA/QC
Applicant Name: Mr. John Kolman
Practice Title
Environmental Health Division - QA/QC
Submitting LHD/Agency/Organization
Maricopa County Environmental Health Division


With over 350 Chinese restaurants in Maricopa County, the Chinese liaison position was created to better serve the needs of Chinese restaurants through education, translation, and training. The goal of the program is to develop an alliance with Chinese restaurant owners and the regulatory authority. Through consultation with the local Chinese community, this position was designed to take a more effective, culturally sensitive approach towards Chinese restaurant inspections. Additionally, having a single Environmental Health Specialist (EHS) for challenged establishments has led to greater compliance, better understanding of food safety and fewer legal actions brought against Chinese establishments.

Responsiveness and Innovation
English inspection reports are often difficult for the Chinese-speaking operator to understand. In order to provide a consistent comprehensible inspection, the Department has fulfilled a public health need by creating the Chinese liaison position. This position provides a successful model of how to effectively communicate with restaurants owned by operators whose primary language is not English. With innovations in technology, such as Chinese translation software and computerized inspection reports, this program is a rarity in the public health field.

The primary duties of the liaison include the inspection of approximately 40 Chinese-speaking food establishments, on-site translation for English-speaking Environmental Health Specialists, and translation of written department documents. The liaison also instructs classes for Chinese food service workers and interacts with the Chinese community at meetings, seminars, and cultural events.

Agency Community Roles
Many challenges faced during an inspection result in a misunderstanding of what safe food handling entails. Maricopa County has been able to portray a positive image to industry by creating a Chinese liaison, allowing both the operator and the regulatory authority to interact on a level that integrates culinary practices with safe food handing practices. The result is better protection of the public’s health and a more knowledgeable restaurant operator.

Communication with the Chinese community was essential to the success of this program. Before creating the program, department management attended Chinese Restaurant Association meetings to gauge the needs and challenges of Chinese food establishments. The community responded that it needed translation services and also cultural understanding of food safety challenges unique to Chinese food establishments. A liaison was hired with these goals in mind.

Costs and Expenditures
The Chinese liaison position was created using an existing vacant Environmental Health Specialist (EHS) position. The base salary for an EHS position is $33,404, with an increase to $35,068 if the individual passes the State of Arizona Registered Sanitarian’s Exam in the first year of hire. The salary of the Chinese position was increased to $36,316, which reflects a bilingual pay differential paid to individuals who log at least 25 percent of their work time translating written or oral communications from English to another language.

Overall, approximately 30 percent of the liaison’s time is spent translating written materials such as legal letters, inspections, newsletters, training materials, and forms into Chinese. Another 25 percent is spent translating in the field for other district Environmental Health Specialists. The remaining 45 percent consists of restaurant inspections in the liaison’s assigned district, Chinese restaurant training sessions, and Chinese food service worker training. The liaison was issued a laptop computer and a printer valued at $3,250. The department also purchased Chinese Partner 5.0 software at a cost of $170.

The Environmental Health Division of Maricopa County is a fee-based program funded by permit fees collected from the establishments within its jurisdiction. With this fee structure in place, the outlook for the continuing the program is strong.

Outcome Process Evaluation
The Chinese community is very pleased with the new position. Many inquiries have been made requesting the liaison’s assistance. On several occasions the liaison’s proactive assistance has been able to curb impending legal action at challenged establishments. The new alliance provided by the Chinese Liaison has strengthened the department’s relationships with the industry, has provided insight into common culinary practices, and has improved food safety.

All of the restaurants in the program are inspected at a minimum of four times per year. The inspections are uploaded onto the department’s database and are subsequently available for public review via the department’s website. The consistent, legible, and thorough documentation allows for easy understanding of the food code.

Lessons Learned
The primary challenge of the Chinese liaison has been to incorporate food safety into cultural practices without compromising the public’s health. This program was created almost simultaneously with the adoption of the 2000 Arizona Food Code. The liaison was challenged with training Chinese operators in the new code and updating existing practices and procedures. This was accomplished through communication with operators prior to the adoption of the code and through educational handouts, newsletters, and training sessions at each establishment.

Key Elements Replication
If attempting to replicate this program, it is key to have an available EHS position on staff or the budget to create a new position. Chinese software is helpful to translate written materials into Chinese. It is also pertinent that the liaison should not only be orally bilingual, but also have a thorough understanding of written translation. Another key element is finding a liaison, who is culturally sensitive to the target population and has a thorough understanding of food safety. It is also ideal if the liaison is given a smaller district of assigned establishments to allow for extended inspections, training sessions, and document translation.