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Working In Clark County: Maggie Yaddof, Environmental Health Specialist At Clark County Public Health

Columbian - 1/18/2020

Jan. 18--YACOLT -- Upon entering the Fargher Lakehouse restaurant, you're immediately struck with a sense of home.

The restaurant was dimly lit and not too crowded on a rainy Monday afternoon during lunch hour. The 1960 hit "Wonderful World" by Sam Cooke played over the speakers while less than a dozen people awaited food, such as the $11.99 Lakehouse Club Sandwich or the $13.99 Classic Fargher Lakehouse Burger.

Back in the kitchen, the two cooks had already been alerted that Maggie Yaddof, a food inspector from Clark County Public Health, would be observing them for a few hours to grade their procedures. Typically, restaurants have food inspections up to three times a year with no notice as to when the health inspector will show up. But in this case, Yaddof did not want to jeopardize the already-delicate relationships she has with restaurants by showing up with a reporter and photographer in tow, so she had informed the restaurant workers she was coming.

"I have to have good working relationships with my facilities," said Yaddof, 26, "Because when I'm asking questions, I have to count on them being honest with me. When was this made? Who made this? I want them to be able to own up when they've done something wrong, especially when they know they've done something wrong. I want them to be able to acknowledge they made a mistake so next time they do it differently."

Yaddof, who covers north Clark County and has held the job for three years, said she's seen people break down and cry, lie to her face and try to prevent her entry during the inspections.

The rural Yacolt restaurant had not been inspected since November 2018, but the agency is short staffed of food inspectors. With 12 full-time inspectors, Clark County Public Health covers seven districts -- including just under 1,800 facilities with permits to sell or serve food, or about 450 permits per inspector per year. The Food and Drug Administration suggests 300 permits per worker.

Food workers must abide by state code, outlined in a 138-page manual. And while inspecting food is often a thankless job, it is an important one, Yaddof said.

"There's a lot of food-borne illness," Yaddof said with a serious tone. "It's notoriously underreported because when people have vomiting and diarrhea, it's a taboo topic. Oftentimes they don't go to the doctor, or they think it is the stomach flu, which is not a thing. It's usually norovirus, and people don't know that. The people in the kitchen -- they are really the first and only line of defense when it comes to eating out."

In the restaurant's kitchen, the cooks, Sheila Kauffman and Alexea "Lexy" Slay, were the Fargher Lakehouse's first line of defense.

As tickets from the lunch rush printed, they were quickly putting orders together while also trying to be attentive to Yaddof's presence. Although they expected her, the inspection nonetheless induced anxiety.

WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY

Working in Clark County, a brief profile of interesting Clark County business owners or a worker in the public, private, or nonprofit sector. Send ideas to Lyndsey Hewitt:

lyndsey.hewitt@columbian.com; fax 360-735-4598; phone 360-735-4550.

Yaddof walked into the freezer to inspect some produce and meat. She took notes on an iPad and an old-fashioned notebook while toting a bag of thermometers and other items.

"She's judging us," said Slay.

Yaddof paused near a rack of cooling food because a tall, narrow container showed condensation.

"They should be properly cooling all of their foods in shallow pans," Yaddof said. "This is dated today. It's not cold."

She opened the lid and steam arose from the top. Inside the container was sliced, peppered turkey. All of it would have to be discarded. Most food items are supposed to be cooled in 2-inch shallow pans to allow heat to escape, because trapped heat is a breeding ground for bacteria.

"Who cooked the turkey?" Yaddof asked. Slay immediately took the blame.

"So bad news: We're going to have to throw this away," she said.

The error was a 25-point, high-risk violation. It's also one of the agency's most common violations. Points are separated into two categories -- red high-risk violations and blue low-risk violations.

"When I was touching it, when I was cutting it, it wasn't hot. My mistake," Slay said.

Yaddof stuck her thermometer in the turkey and it read 95 degrees.

"Well, thank you for owning that," Yaddof said. "It has to stay on that shallow pan uncovered in the refrigerator until it's 41 (degrees). Once it says 41 you can put it in these containers all day long."

That would be the restaurant's only violation during the inspection, totaling a score of 25. That was up from its perfect inspection score of zero in 2018.

"Man, it would have been freaking perfect if I didn't ..." Slay trailed off.

"Don't beat yourself up," Kauffman said.

"I'm going to," Slay said.

Yaddof acknowledged that because the restaurant was aware of the inspection, it might have changed the outcome slightly.

"What I probably would have expected to be different would probably be more of the general cleanliness," she said. "That's usually the stuff when we first walk into the facility. They start cleaning the clutter and little messes. But a lot of the times, that's not really what we focus on because those are not the things that get people sick. It's the temperature control. It's the bare-hand contact.

"The one violation I'm taking today is a big violation," she said, reiterating the 25 points. "That's the highest single-point violation you can get. They knew we were coming, and it still happened. So that's a problem with process. That's why it's important to find out who did it and make sure the process gets corrected."

Before Kauffman and Slay signed the iPad and accepted the score, they asked Yaddof a few questions about processes.

"We're regulators, but in another sense, we're very much educators," Yaddof said. "We can hopefully prevent food-borne illness from happening. It's very much a thankless profession. You don't walk through the door and people are like, 'Yay, the health inspector's here!' But we don't do it for praise. We do it because it's a necessary thing."

But beyond necessity, the job indulges the "science geek" in her.

"I enjoy the microbiology piece," she said. "We spend a lot of time learning about all of the (viruses) and things that happen."

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