State Council Meeting Reviews Local Initiatives, Upcoming Calorie Rules And Public Health Duty

Posted On: 8/17/2016

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TAGS: vending, micro market, NAMA's affiliated state councils meeting, Sherree Edwards, Sandra Larson, Eric Dell, Terri Williams, Roger Coffman, vending machine inspections, public health, food inspectors, Taste NY

CHICAGO -- Leaders of the National Automatic Merchandising Association's affiliated state councils gathered for their annual breakfast during the association's OneShow in Chicago. The affiliation program for state vending associations has been a mainstay of NAMA's success in fostering communication between the industry and state lawmakers, over the past six decades. Affiliation puts the resources and experience of the national association behind the local knowledge and enthusiasm of a state trade group, which has proven to be a durable formula for effective advocacy.

vending, NAMA's affiliated state councils meeting, Sherree Edwards, Sandra Larson, Eric Dell, Terri Williams, Roger Coffman
PHOTOS: Speakers at NAMA's affiliated state councils meeting, from left, are Sherree Edwards, Sandra Larson, Eric Dell, Terri Williams and Roger Coffman.

NAMA regional legislative director Sherree Edwards and senior director and counsel of government affairs Sandra Larson welcomed the participants to the 2016 breakfast and invited state officers and legislative counsels to describe successful efforts by their associations.

Delegates from the New York State Automatic Vending Association and the Georgia Automatic Merchandising Council described local-sourcing initiatives the groups have launched. Taste NY and Georgia Grown campaigns promote use of local foods and beverages in vending machines; they've been well received by elected officials and applauded by local news media.

The Tri-State Automatic Merchandising Council (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware) delegation included Bud Burke, CoffeeMatt Corp. (Levittown, PA), a member of Tri-States' advisory council to the long-running Vending Machine Repair education program, as well as instructor Davis Haines and two students.

The ensuing discussion of the state council's activities can be summarized by the observation of one participant: "Advocacy really works, if you do it."

At the breakfast, NAMA's Advocacy Awards were presented to state leaders who helped conduct successful campaigns in defense of fair play for the industry. This year's recipients are Amy Bartholomee, Vend Central (Baltimore); Steve Boucher, Canteen (Suitland, MD); Chip English, Continental Vending (Anaheim, CA); Brent Garson, Vendors Exchange (Cleveland); Rodney Nester, Smith Vending (Clarinda, IA) and Dan Walsh, Vistar Southern California (San Dimas).

NAMA senior vice-president of government affairs Eric Dell updated the state council leaders on the vending machine calorie disclosure rule now being finalized by the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for writing and overseeing the regulation mandated by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Dell reported that the rules will take effect on Dec. 1, 2016, and anyone operating more than 20 vending machines should prepare for them. The options for complying are still under review. The front-of-pack labels developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute as "Facts Up Front," and similar ones from the American Beverage Association and National Confectioners Association, may meet the requirement for machines that display the item in vend position. Discussion is ongoing about small vendible items such as gum and roll candies, and specifications for type size and style are in the draft state. Formats for calorie-content statements on closed-front machines also are under review. Dell reported that it seems likely that hot beverage venders will be allowed to display either a list of the caloric content of each ingredient or of each finished option.

Operators need not await final regulations before preparing to comply. "Start putting signage on your coffee machines," he urged. And, whatever the final details may be, machines will be required to display operator contact information, including a telephone number.

"Begin putting a plan in place to disclose calories on solid-front machines," Dell added. "Work with your beverage suppliers. Don't wait until the last minute." Present thinking is that the smallest type size used to identify a product offered for sale will be acceptable for the calorie label.

Commissary foods already meet standards for ingredient listings; these can be expanded with the calorie count. "And, if you're packaging a condiment, list its caloric content too," Dell advised.

As is usual with federal health and safety regulations, states have the authority to adopt a rule without adopting the guidance; they may opt for greater stringency. "We're working on this," he reported.

At the 2016 "Fly-In" government relations outreach program in the nation's capital, one of NAMA's primary objectives was to explain to legislators the importance of providing an explicit "right to cure" that allows the operator to remedy a violation within 60 days of the citation, Dell concluded.

The complex question of government relations was addressed from another perspective at a business session on the morning of the State Council breakfast. It's important for an industry to explain its business to government; it can be equally helpful for government to reach out to industry.

Public Health Cooperation

The "Better Together: Best Practices for Health and Food Safety" session was led by Terri S. Williams, acting director of environmental health and assistant director of the County of Los Angeles (CA) Department of Public Health, and Roger E. Coffman, food program specialist for the Lake County (IL) Health Department.

"I'm a health inspector, and people don't like me," Williams began. "Actually, what they don't like is the power I have: I can close you down," she said. "And I've heard a colleague tell someone, 'You can't do that because the law says you can't,' and 'We don't do it that way.' In Los Angeles, we're trying to change that.

"Do you care about public health? Of course you do -- probably at least as much as we," she observed. As scientists, public health officials must stay current with their field of study. "We need to understand what's changing," Williams said.

Four years ago, someone came to Williams with a micromarket concept. "My reaction was, 'We already regulate packaged food.' I didn't get it." But, recognizing that it was something she hadn't seen before, she opened a dialogue with operators who were introducing micromarkets.

"In California, vending operators were paying $60 for inspections that we weren't even making," Williams continued. "We needed location-lists in order to do the inspections, and operators aren't eager to turn those over! But we're taking money from you, and we should deliver the service you pay for: you're a customer. Our job is to understand what you do.

"We must protect public health; so must you," the speaker stressed. "We need to sit down with you and listen more."

An example of this flexibility is the recognition that "we need to be reasonable with the operators of food trucks that serve the movie industry." The problem was that they don't run regular routes, but must go wherever filming is under way. "We solved this by calling operators on their cellphones and asking, 'Where are you right now?' Then we go out and inspect them." They always answer their phones, she said; "If they don't, they'll have to start sending us detailed routes in advance."

The department is striving to take a similarly practical approach with micromarkets, Williams explained. "If you have a standard plan for your micromarkets that specifies the equipment and the layout, you can submit it for several, or many, installations with slightly different arrangements, to avoid the need for a new 'plan check,'" she said.

Common Purpose

"As scientists, we're a bit slow to change our minds," the veteran health inspector concluded. "But we're trying to move from being a regulator to being a partner. Your object is to serve the public, and so is ours. We have to understand the obstacles we create for the food industry. I'm not out to get you; I want to make things better for everyone.

CAN DO: State leaders were honored for successful advocacy at NAMA's 2016 OneShow State Council Breakfast. Above, from left, are Steve Boucher, Canteen; Rodney Nester, Smith Vending; Chip English, Continental Vending; Dan Walsh, Vistar Southern California; Amy Bartholomee, Vend Central; and Jeffery R. Smith, All Star Services. Award-winner Brent Garson was unable to attend. Presenting the awards is Eric Dell (r.), NAMA senior vice-president for government affairs.

"The more you can call on me, the more we'll diminish fear. The more we can work together, the better we'll all do our jobs," she summed up. "I urge you to reach out to us; don't wait for us to contact you."

Lake County's Roger Coffman concurred that everyone involved with food has a strong, perennial interest in public health. "The new wave today is collaboration," he said. "Our task is to meet with everyone in a foodservice operation once a year to train them. This has worked to reduce foodborne illness." And his department makes every attempt to get permits done quickly. "We want sanity," he said.

Coffman pointed out that an essential part of preventing foodborne illness is detailed, accurate record keeping. "You may not see why this is important, but I urge you to look at your supplier records," he said. "Look at what happened to Chipotle. Get it right; industries have been ruined by warnings about 'dangerous strawberries' that really were raspberries."

The Illinois sanitarian pointed out that if an operator sells a packaged product and someone gets sick, the only way health inspectors could help is to look back along the supply chain. "We need records, and you need records," he emphasized.

It's also important for operators to monitor the health of their food handlers. "If someone suffers vomiting and diarrhea, send them home -- and document it," he urged. "Call us if you need help, information or advice." There can be a problem if a physician examines them and sends them back to work, Coffman noted. "If that happens, somebody didn't get the message."

A food operation needs a supply of hot water for handwashing, the speaker observed. "If it breaks, fix it right away," he advised. "You'd be surprised at how important that is."

Good record keeping also is essential when sanitizing food preparation equipment, Coffman continued. "Sure, record-keeping costs money, but foodborne illness costs a lot more -- legal settlements have run to millions of dollars."

These records should include temperature logs, he emphasized. "You want to have that information. If you can show the recorded temperatures in a food machine for a specified date, you can avoid a lawsuit," the speaker pointed out. "The prospective plaintiff will attribute the illness to food from somewhere else."

Given an operator's recognition of the importance of monitoring food safety and using best practices, operators should have few difficulties when talking to their local health authorities. Coffman noted.

And a health department that's comfortable with a new development can be a valuable ally, Coffman concluded. "We had neighboring agencies that wanted to charge 10 times what we charge for inspections, because they didn't understand what a micromarket is," the Illinois official reported. "But we do talk to one another, and things do change."