Florida's new restaurant inspection rules take effect January 1, 2013 and include new grading system

TAMPA - "Every night I check all the coolers and make sure the meat is put away properly," says Gino Tiozzo, whose family has owned Donatello Restaurant in Tampa for almost three decades. So following proper food handling is vital to his success.

"We always use the best quality ingredients and handle them as safely as possible," Gino said.

But starting January 1, 2013 restaurant inspections will change. The Division of Hotels and Restaurants, which is in charge of all state inspectors is implementing the new 2009 Food Code from the 2001 version. The agency claims it will make the inspection process easier to understand.

It includes a new three-tiered safety and sanitation system of high priority, intermediate and basic violations. This replaces the current critical and non-critical violation system.

"Either it was critical or non-critical but that put a lot of minor violations into the critical category," said Chef Clyde Tanner. Tanner is the Academic Director at the Art Institute of Tampa's Culinary School and he already teaches the new rules. He says they better evaluate a kitchen's conditions.

"The high priority items are critical violations that will most likely lead to a food borne illness. The intermediate is for violations that could potentially lead, if not corrected. And the bottom tier is just for minor violations," Tanner explained.

So if a restaurant is written up with a high priority violation, it will be related to issues with cooking, reheating, cooling or hand-washing.

Other changes include providing better food allergen awareness and training which will benefit allergy sufferers, who've felt limited in eating out.

"Millions of people have food allergens and restaurants are not accessible to those people. So when they go to a restaurant now, they can identify a food allergen. They can safely eat at that restaurant," Tanner added.

The new 2009 Food Code will also prohibit serving raw or undercooked foods on a children's menu and Tanner says that's important as kids are more susceptible to pathogens.

"This is just for their safety and it decreases the liabilities against restaurants and does protect our children," Tanner said.

Overall, Gino says anything he can do to make his kitchen safer, the better.

"We try to be proactive when it comes to the guest's needs then retroactive. We don't want issues," Gino said.

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