1. What inspired you to get into your profession?
When I was in college, during breaks I was performing asbestos abatement for a private company. I got paid a lot of money however it was grueling work. We would be toiling in our PPE sweating in 100+heat, in tight and dark spaces, using jackhammers, etc. Once in a while a guy would show up, spend maybe 5 minutes in the danger
zone, collect some samples and get back out. I noticed he wore a suit and drove a new BMW. I asked him what he did and he replied he was an industrial hygienist. So this guy has a cushy job making way more money than me. That’s when I decided to go into this field. However, I made the mistake of working for the government. Instead of a BMW I have a 2003 Pathfinder with almost 200k miles.The saying is “You won’t get rich working in government but you will get a chance to make a positive difference”.
2. In laymans terms what is the nature of your work?
In short, you go to the doctor if you are sick. It is my job to make it so you don’t need to see the doctor. A longer description is; An Environmental Health Program (EHP) is to protect the welfare of the public that the program serves. An EHP helps to protect through a variety of programs that promote healthy environmental conditions and reduce risks associated with communicable disease. The typical duties of an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) include food service inspections, well and septic inspections, child care center inspections, public pool and spa inspections, tanning establishment inspections, massage therapy inspections, plan review of food service facilities, nuisance investigations, and unsanitary living conditions inspections. While these are the main roles of the EHO, there are many other items that the EHO responds to. For example, questions and complaints regarding radon, lead, mold, tobacco smoke, pest control, West Nile virus, and other emerging health issues.
3. The toughest and most rewarding parts of your work?
In this line of work we deal with the public a lot. Good customer service is first and foremost a job requirement. I love working together with the facility owners helping people understand the science behind what we do. I enjoy teaching and coaching and seeing the look of comprehension when explaining a difficult concept. I like knowing that what I do makes a difference even if it is often not seen by the public. The toughest part is having to resort to citations to get compliance with laws. It feels like I have failed to get the facility to understand the importance of the laws. I feel like a disappointed father because I feel that these are “my” facilities and they should know better.
4. Best and worst story you can share with us?
Best - We made the switch to the FDA Model Food Code a couple years ago ahead of next year’s deadline. It involved a tremendous amount of time and effort to get our facilities into compliance. We were able to see the process work the way it is intended when we had a food borne illness complaint come in. We performed a traceback investigation at the facility in question and were able to determine with significant certainty that they were probably not the source of the illness. If the facility had not converted to the new Code there would not have been the amount of evidence necessary to draw such a conclusion.
Worst – We had received a complaint about a restaurant that served crispy chicken. When our inspector showed up they saw a stray dog running away with what looked like something in its mouth. During the inspection the inspector noticed the door to the back of the facility was wide open. Sure enough there were about 20 whole raw chickens on a cart just sitting in an alley, marinating. There were flies everywhere because of the filthy dumpsters located nearby. When we asked the owner why they did it this way, they said that was how they did it at home. It’s one thing to get your family sick, a whole other thing to affect the public..
5. What is your training, and affiliations ?
Member of the National Environmental Health Association and President of the Illinois affiliate. https://ieha.
B.S in Public Health from Northern Illinois University, member of the State Board of Health, past member of the McHenry County Board of Health. Licensed Environmental Health Practitioner, Registered Sanitarian, Certified Professional – Food Safety, et al.
6. Can you tell us about your jurisdiction ?
We have about 270 facilities we inspect.
7. What are the challenges in your jurisdiction?
In many jurisdictions the “mom and pop” facilities have a harder time affording the citations. If the owner needs money to the fix an issue in the first place, writing a ticket for $500 isn’t going to help the situation. Citations are a last resort and typically because the owner is taking no action at all.
8. How have you used Iwaspoisoned.com as part of your workflow?
As part of my career I try to keep up with new ideas and technologies. We had noticed that complaints of food facilities would end up on Yelp and rarely would be reported to us. Yelp does not forward illness complaints in our jurisdiction to our office. That is a service that Iwaspoisoned.com provides. This allows us to go out and confirm or deny if there is an issue. Public health is to protect and stop outbreaks from occurring. Iwaspoisoned.com assists us in doing that.
9. Has Iwaspoisoned.com been helpful?
If we can stop an outbreak from getting worse there is tremendous value in that.
10. What are the challenges, and what can consumers do to help ?
One challenge is when the consumer does not interact with us after the report is made. We always try to follow up, but if we receive no response from the complainant it is difficult to make progress. We urge consumers, if you have a complaint and we try to contact you, please respond. Creating an initial report is important, but it is just the start, the follow up is critical to making progress.
11. To other tech forward states & counties interested in integrating Iwaspoisoned.com into their process - how would you recommend they do that?
Assign a person or group to be responsible for the intake of complaints. Typically a supervisor or manager that has email access 24 hours a day. You don’t want all inspectors to respond to a complaint and you want only one voice in your responses back to complainants to avoid confusion.
12. What other technology have you integrated to help with your work?
When Illinois passed legislation to adopt the FDA Code we realized that we would either have to order all new inspection forms or we could switch to digital. When we did a search in Google Play and the Apple App Store we couldn’t find any health inspection apps so we created one. We worked for months with a company called Snappii to design it and troubleshoot it. While it is not perfect, it is designed to get an inspector out in the field asap. As part of the design of the app we negotiated with Snappii to allow the basic version to be offered for free. Look up FDA Health Inspection or Food Safety Inspection by Snappii https://www.snappii.
Recent Interesting Reports
“I had a mango and strawberry smoothie. I drink it on the way to work and started feeling so nauseous and felt like I was about to puke. Now I’m at work on my 1hr break in the restroom with diarrhea! I work at a call center I can’t keep... going to the restroom will I’m on calls. This is my second time at this place and the experience was not good at all! I got sick drinking it while at work ”
“We got the family meal with 16 pieces of chicken, red beans and rice, Cole slaw and mashed potatoes and gravy. Eaten about 6pm. Sickness started as a general off feeling in stomach that night. The next day headache, powerful, persistent vomiting and bad nausea were the biggest symptoms we... had. I refuse to eat from this location again due to multiple other recent submissions on this site about others being sickened. ”
“I rarely eat food from this location or elsewhere (perhaps once every couple months) but three out of the last five times eating at the Times Square location have caused me severe abdominal cramps and several rounds of diarrhea. It's important to note that I don't always order the same... thing from there but most meals I ordered contained fries and/or nuggets. Something is DEFINITELY going on at that place. This was only my second meal of the day and within minutes of eating their food severe abdominal cramps started followed by three rounds (currently) of diarrhea. I'm going to report elsewhere and investigate more. ”
“Chicken On the 1st I ate, DURING THAT WEEK AFTER I EXPERIENCED NAUSEA, DIREAH , ON THE 8TH I HAD A UTI, ON THE 9TH I WAS RUSHED TO THE HOSPITAL WITH SEVERE PAIN IN MY RIGHT KIDNEY WITH FEVER OVER 103.3. ”
“4 of us 4 of us ate there. The fifth person with us did not. All 4 of us got sick within 3 hours of eating. The 5th person never got sick and they didnt eat this. We had severe vomiting with diarrhea for 6 to 8 hours. Violent! ”
“I ordered a family size of jalapeño poppers. 30 minutes after eating them I felt my stomach start cramping. A little while later I was in the bathroom. Here it is almost 16 hours later I still can’t leave from the bathroom. ”
“Salad My boyfriend and I both ate the garden salad around 5:45pm on Saturday, January 25th. I started feeling sick around 10:15pm, woke up at 3:30am, had diarrhea 4 times between 3:30am and 8:25am. I also felt very nauseous and felt like I could throw up, but did not because... I have emetophobia, I also felt dizzy and my vision was blurry. My boyfriend had diarrhea at approximately 7:15am this morning and he threw up at 8:20am. ”
“Steamed KingCrabLegs With 30 minutes of eating the steamed king crab legs which really I should not have eaten because they were cold but I assumed they were making sure that they weren't sitting out longer than they should. Anyway I ate 3 king crab legs, 3 hush puppies which... were warm and tasted fine e and a very small slice of prime rib which was sliced fresh and was warm. So the crab legs must have been what made me sick. There was only o e bite that tasted funny but it was one of the last pieces that I ate. Within 10 minutes I started feeling grumbling in my stomach and 10min later I went and threw my guts up ”
“Either the peri salted chips or the chicken wrap Just me, and I started having a fever & feeling really hot whilst in the restaurant. Left restaurant and started having belly pains. Was in the cinema when it started getting worse & I had the urge for flatulence / go... to the toilet and since having gone the toilet (which was not pretty) I need to go every 15 mins or so plus continued flatulence ”
“I got a double double with fries and a shake. The worst experience ever. I got food for lunch since I work at the mall. I started to get a light headache quickly escalated to a migraine before I knew it I couldn't bare to open my eyes. I had... to go home 3 hrs before my shift ended. NEVER GOING THERE EVER!!!!! Spent the rest of the night feeling like crap😭😭 ”