Lye in tea? Counties target food handlers' permits

Monday , September 01, 2014 - 11:23 AM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

OGDEN — A regulatory structure underpins the preparation and serving of food in Utah restaurants — a system that is meant to help prevent lye-in-your-tea and other accidental poisonings.

Utah law requires anyone handling your food in a public establishment to take and pass an approved safety course and test that then allows them to be issued a certified food handler’s card.

Part of the training includes how to safely store the food and other ingredients being served to the facility’s customers.

Early in August, 67-year-old Jan Harding took a sip of sweet tea at Dickey’s Barbecue in South Jordan that had accidentally been mixed with lye instead of sugar. Healy suffered severe burns to her mouth and throat that left her in critical condition. Lye is an active ingredient in drain cleaners and is used for degreasing deep fryers.

Whether or not the employee had a food handler’s permit at the time is not known. However, the Salt Lake County Health Department cited the restaurant seven months prior to the incident for improper food labeling.

On Aug. 21, the Weber-Morgan health department found one employee lacking their food handler’s permit at Dickey’s Barbecue in Ogden.

“If we find someone working without a card, we give them a week to come in and get a current card. If we find them again, we send them home. It is usually handled by the restaurant manager and they’d most likely lose their job,” said Weber-Morgan Health Department public relations director Lori Buttars.

Buttars said last year 9,006 people were trained and issued food handler permits through the health department.

“We haven’t had any blatant violations where an individual food handler refused to come in to get a permit,” Buttars said. “We have cited restaurants who do not have a food safety manager on site. This is a certification one step above a food handler’s permit and there should be one working at the restaurant if it’s open. They also get a week to get a current certification and if we find repeated violations, the restaurant is cited and put on the health department’s website until they get a current manager.”

Buttars said the health department has put three restaurants on its website this year for this violation. They are removed from the site as soon as they can prove compliance.

“Thankfully, we haven’t had anyone go beyond this, so there have been no closures for this reason,” she said.

So far this year, the Davis County Health Department has conducted 650 food establishment inspections. Of those, 109 employees were found not to have their food handler’s permit.

“We give them up to seven days to get it taken care of. If they don’t, then we can make recommendations to the manager and can cite the facility for being out of compliance,” said Linda Ebert, bureau manager for food services facilities at the Davis department.

To receive a valid card in Utah, food handlers need to take a course from the health department or online from one of the approved vendors that has met the standards set by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

Training includes several areas of food handling, including safe and proper storage of food, how bacteria grows, how to heat and cool food properly, sanitizing, cross contamination and even how to properly wash the dishes, Ebert said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in six Americans, or 48 million people, acquire food poisoning each year. Of those, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

“It’s not to be taken lightly. You have people’s trust when you’re cooking for them,” Buttars said. “In fact, anyone can benefit from taking a course. We all go to family barbecues and picnics and most of us cook for others. It doesn’t hurt any of us to learn food safety rules.”

Both health departments offer food handler’s training. To learn more, call the Davis County Health Department at 801-525-5000 or the Weber-Morgan Health Department at 801-399-7160. Online courses can be found at

Sign up for e-mail news updates.

Related Stories