LAKE BROWNWOOD — Almost 40 staff members of summer camps in the Lake Brownwood area attended a food handlers safety program Thursday, presented by the Brownwood-Brown County Health Department to better prepare them for the coming season.

“Wherever you’re at, continue washing your hands,” Paul Coghlan, sanitation inspector for the health department, told his audience. “When you’re in food service, you need to be constantly washing your hands. You don’t know what’s out there, and you don’t know what you might have.”

The program was held at the Heart of Texas Baptist Encampment. Other speakers were Jennifer McNiece, public health preparedness coordinator with the health department, and Suzanne Doggett, food service director at Brownwood Regional Medical Center.

Coghlan said the course presented to the camp staffs was a condensed version of the food handlers program he provides about every two weeks at the health department office for employees of restaurants and other institutions that provide food service. That course takes about two hours, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be conducted at the health department. He said he is willing to take the instruction on location.

“Anywhere I can take my computer, we can give a program,” Coghlan said. “Mrs. Roberts said we can hold it here, rather than bringing all the staff members into Brownwood,” Coghlan said. Rhonda Roberts is director of the Baptist encampment, and she introduced Coghlan as the program began.

“Food handlers can make or break you,” Coghlan told the camp staff members. “People might be dirty. They might let a hair get into the food. I’ve been in food service all my adult life, and I’ve heard every excuse.”

Coghlan’s program included topics like prevention of food-borne illnesses and personal hygiene in addition to proper food handling.

Coghlan said he hopes to be able to offer the food handling program in Spanish soon, and is working on a plan to offer it in Chinese sometime in the future.

McNiece spoke briefly on awareness of communicable illnesses that youngsters at camps might catch and spread, and about the need for camp staff members to be prepared for any natural disaster or emergency that might develop while camp is in session.

While most of those attending were direct food service providers, the audience included lifeguards whose assignments also include kitchen duty when the pools are closed.

“I’m not a bad guy,” Coghlan said, even though his office has the authority to close a food service provider if certain requirements are not met. “I don’t go into a restaurant to close it. I go into a restaurant to help it.”

But, he admitted, “I see a lot of things in restaurants.”