Meet the Environmental Health Officer
Have you ever taken a look around a restaurant and thought, "This place could use a good cleaning!"? Or perhaps your reaction was, "Wow, this place is so clean I would eat off the floor!"
Either way, you may also have wondered just whose responsibility it is to make sure that commercial kitchen operators maintain clean facilities, follow food safety rules, and practice good food hygiene. In BC, these people are called Environmental Health Officers (EHO) – in other jurisdictions, they are often called Public Health Inspectors.
You’ve heard of them; maybe seen them portrayed on TV or in a movie; perhaps you’ve actually met an Environmental Health Officer in person. If that’s the case, you may already know that they do a lot more than just food inspections.
There are many areas an EHO’s work covers, but they all centre around keeping the public safe and healthy. A major component of the job is food inspections; from restaurant kitchens, to supermarkets, to the little vendor on the corner each summer. They are responsible for ensuring that any potentially hazardous food is handled in a manner promoting food safety. But that’s just one of their important roles.
The health and safety of drinking water supplies and recreational water operations are also a top priority and area of responsibility for an EHO. That includes everything from ensuring the safety of drinking water sources, to inspecting public pools, hot tubs and in some cases, beaches.
Summer camps and industrial camps are also inspected on a routine basis. Each camp must pass a food, drinking water and general camp inspection as well as have appropriate sewage disposal.
EHOs also inspect personal service facilities, for cleanliness and the prevention of health hazards. A personal service could range from a barber shop to a manicure facility to a tattoo parlour.
That’s a lot of inspections! But that’s still not all an EHO does. Other tasks include making recommendations on approvals of subdivisions; issuing holding tank permits; following up communicable disease and food borne illness reports; emergency preparedness; risk assessments; complaint follow-up; health hazard investigations, and, educating the public on any and all of these topics.
For more information about environmental public health related issues, contact your local health unit and ask to speak to an Environmental Health Officer. And the next time you’re in your favourite restaurant, take a look around for a food permit. It’s your way of knowing the EHO has already been there, working to protect your health!
Environmental Health Officer