Just because Paul Coghlan, sanitation inspector for the Brownwood-Brown County Health Department, doesn’t patronize a particular restaurant doesn’t mean he’s avoiding it for professional reasons.
“People ask me all the time where I eat out,” Coghlan said, three months into his new career after working in food service for 15 years at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex. “I tell them not to go by that. There’s not too many places that serve food on my diet. I can’t eat pizza, and I can’t eat fried foods. That pretty much leaves me with salad bars.”
Likewise, Coghlan said customers shouldn’t assume the worse when they see the health department inspector’s vehicle at a food service establishment.
“We’re there not necessarily because of a problem,” he said.
Coghlan said he makes regular visits to restaurants, child care facilities, foster homes, and schools - seeing each at least once and some as often as four times a year - and it’s usually a non-adversarial situation.
“A lot of people get scared” when the inspector arrives, Coghlan said. “They shouldn’t be. I’m just another set of eyes. If we see something, we’re going to correct it. We can go talk to owners and tell them what we need. We’re here to help.”
Coghlan said part of his work with the Texas Youth Commission here was training young people to work in the food service area of the school. He plans to capitalize on that background by offering free, three-hour food handling courses for area food service workers.
“Paul has hit the ground running,” health department administrator Alicia Long said. “He hopes to offer courses for food service workers two times a month. When he came to work, he immediately saw a need for this, but it took a little time to get everyone’s approval for it. Some youth aren’t trained properly until they start work - simple things they don’t know.”
Coghlan has spent several weeks compiling a custom textbook for use in the classes, and is now ready to begin lessons.
The first class will be held Friday, Sept. 5. Details are available from Coghlan at the health department office, located at 510 E. Lee St., Brownwood. The telephone number is 646-0554.
“This will help train food service workers how to work, especially with fast food,” Coghlan said. “There’s a lot of young people getting jobs in that industry here, and they may not know some basics about cleanliness and illness. For example, if they’re sick one day, they shouldn’t take a chance. They should stay home. They will get a certificate when they finish that they can take to their employer.”
Coghlan said the department receives frequent complaints about food service workers not wearing gloves or hair nets.
“There are several restaurants who want this done,” Coghlan said of the classes. “That’s great, because it will make our job easier. I think we’re on the right track. We’re looking to have more handouts and more outreach. We’re looking to get these (ratings) numbers up, but there’s already a lot of good restaurants here.”
Long said sanitation inspections represent one of four departments within the department. The others are immunizations, health preparedness and WIC (Women-Infants-Children supplemental nutrition).
“We like do our mission through teamwork,” Long said. “We have four departments with one goal. The more education, the better.”
Coghlan said he worked with former inspectors Donita Denison and Anita Aaron while he was at TYC, and admired their approach to the job and learned from them. Through that association, he decided they were doing a job he was interesting in doing too.
“It’s fun,” Coghlan said. “And by adding these classes, it’s going to be a service to the public.”