New specialists committed to public health

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Barry County Health Department environmental specialists Jan Cox and Erin Garren are committed to improving local public health.

"We want people to be assured that when they go to a restaurant the food is handled properly, and that we are doing our best to protect the environment that they are living in," said Garren, who worked as an environmental public health specialist (EPHS) in McDonald County before accepting the position at the local health department.

"It is wonderful to be able to do something that has such an impact on the community," said Cox, who has worked as a Barry County EPHS since November of last year. "When I took this position, I was looking for something more fulfilling and rewarding. This job is important because it is making the county a lot safer for the community."

As environmental specialists, Garren and Cox are responsible for inspecting and permitting all childcare facilities, food establishments, lodging venues and septic installations in Barry County.

Although Garren and Cox are both trained in all areas of environmental public health, their educational and professional backgrounds allow them to specialize in different areas of public health.

Cox, who specializes in food establishment inspections, has a bachelor of science degree from Kansas State University that focuses on hotel management and food services. She has owned and managed restaurants for many years, served as a consultant for several Arkansas-based companies and published two food safety manuals.

Garren, who has a bachelor of science degree in agronomy from Missouri State University and several years of experience in environmental public health, focuses on wastewater installation inspections.

"I like doing the inspections and investigations and helping ensure public safety, but I really like the education part," said Cox. "Every inspection we do involves educating people. I feel like we get great reception and great questions, and we are able to guide people in a direction that makes the food safer and the operation better."

Over the last year, Cox has been instrumental in helping the local health department implement the county's new ServSafe certification requirement, which requires a ServSafe certified employee to be on-site during all operating hours.

"We are seeing a lot fewer serious critical violations, like food temperature, cleanliness and handwashing, since we enacted the ServSafe requirement," said Cox, who will become the Barry County Health Department's first certified ServSafe instructor next year. "Helping people get ServSafe certified has been a challenge, but it was a successful challenge."

The environmental health specialists are also challenged by the Barry County Health Department's extensive public health ordinances.

"It's a challenge to transition between county's rules," said Garren. "You have to learn the rules to be able to give people the right answers and information."

Barry County's ordinances are new to Garren who joined the local health department around two months ago, but the rules are new to Cox also. The local health department enacted new food service and wastewater ordinances over the last year.

"Erin has helped a lot of installers in Barry County who have a lot of questions about the new Barry County process and what we require," said Cox. "She has been very good at helping them learn what we expect."

Garren said it has been helpful to work with well trained installers.

"Most of the installers working in Barry County are very good," said Garren. "I hope I am helping some homeowners too. I'm just trying to do my part to provide a healthy safe environment for the people and children in Barry County."

Over the next year, Garren and Cox plan to concentrate on providing local residents with better service and education.

Cox, who has received several hours of emergency management training, will attend a course on food borne illness outbreaks in Jefferson City next year. Garren continuously receives training on state wastewater laws and other environmental health topics.

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