Environmental Health Programs
Wilkes County Environmental Health is responsible for protecting the public’s health by ensuring that our public’s environments are free from disease-causing agents. Perhaps the most well-known of these responsibilities is the restaurant inspections; but Environmental Health also regularly inspects food stands, meat/ seafood markets, school / hospital and nursing home lunchrooms, residential care facilities, rest homes, nursing homes, hospitals, child care centers, hotels/ lodging facilities, summer camps, and public swimming pools. Water testing, lead poisoning, outbreak investigations and other complaint investigations are performed on an as-needed basis.
Environmental Health is governed by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). DENR sets laws and rules concerning protection of the environment and the environment’s impact on the public’s health. Locally, Environmental Health enforces DENR’s regulations by keeping the environment free from disease-causing germs.
Education is an important part of the environmental health program. Environmental Health Specialists provide educational opportunities for restaurant employees through the Food Safety and Protection course. The series of classes focuses on food inspection, handling and safety. Environmental Health also provides education to the public on any of the regulations Environmental Health supports as well as on food handling, air quality, disease transmission and prevention, vector control and matters related to solid and hazardous wastes. Educational workshops and programs can be provided to schools, churches, civic groups and the community at large.
Restaurants are inspected at intervals based on risk factors (such as types of foods prepared). Environmental Health Specialists enforce the North Carolina rules and regulations governing the sanitation of restaurant and other foodhandling establishments. Some examples of these regulations are as follows:
- All food must come from an approved source.
- Food must be handled properly from the time it leaves the delivery vehicle to the time it is served.
- Food must be kept at proper temperatures during receiving, storage, preparation, and cooking. It must never be reserved.
- The kitchen, dining area, and lavatories must be in good repair.
- The kitchen, including utensils such as pots, silverware, plates, and cutting boards, must be clean and sanitized properly.
- Water must come from an approved and pressurized source. Required temperatures must be met.
- Personnel must practice good hygiene, including proper hand washing habits and clean clothing. They should not work while ill.
Additionally, sewage disposal, restroom facilities, pest control, cleaning and construction of floors, walls, and ceilings, lighting and ventilation are routinely checked during inspections.
Points are taken for each regulated item not performed properly on the official inspection form. Each item not performed to code is reviewed with the owner / operator of the restaurant. Once an inspection is complete the points for each item are added up and the total score is the grade. The grade card is posted where it can be easily seen by the public. All establishments are required by law to keep their grade card posted. Any establishment failing to score at least 70% will have its permit revoked immediately.
Lodging facilities are inspected once a year. The facility must be clean and in good repair. Special attention is paid to water temperatures, laundry rooms, and ice machines. Hotels and motels may serve prepackaged food, such as donuts and bagels. To serve other meals they must obtain a food handling permit. Bed & Breakfast type places are permitted to serve breakfasts only depending on their bed capacity.
Childcare Center Inspections
Childcare centers are inspected at least once every six months. Inspections may be conducted at any childcare facility as often as necessary to ensure compliance with state sanitation standards. Child care centers are rated Superior, Approved, Provisional, or Disapproved based on a demerit-score grading system. During an inspection, Environmental Health Specialists check for temperatures, handling, and preparation of food; diapering and diaper changing facilities; safety and cleanliness of indoor and outdoor toys and equipment, furniture, beds, cots, linen; hand washing of staff and children; lighting and heating/ cooling environment, and hot water temperatures at sinks that are accessible to children. Points, called “demerits” are taken away for each item not up to code on the official inspection form (link to the form). Each demerit is reviewed with the owner/ operator of the restaurant. The grade card is posted where it can be easily seen by the public. All establishments are required by law to keep their grade card posted.
Lead Poisoning Investigation
Environmental Health Specialists perform lead poisoning investigations when a child under six years of age has an elevated blood lead level. Healthcare providers are asked to test all children under six years of age for high blood lead levels for early detection. Lead poisoning in children can cause learning problems, headaches, anemia, hearing loss, upset stomach, loss of energy, poor appetite and (in very high levels) coma or death. Lead can be found in certain paints, water, soil, traditional medicines, old mini-blinds and certain hobbies and crafts materials.
Environmental Health Specialists investigate the environments of children with high blood levels to try to find the source of lead in the child’s environment. When a source of lead is found, Environmental Health Specialists work with the parents or guardians to remove the source of the lead poisoning. Educational opportunities for the public are also available on lead risk and reduction.
Pool / Recreational Waters Inspections
There are two different types of pools: year round and seasonal. Year round pools are open from January 1 through December 31 each year. Year round pools have two inspections a year. Seasonal pools are open from April 1 through October 31. Seasonal pools have one inspection a year while it is in use. Environmental Health Specialists look for temperature, filtration, pH and the levels of chemicals in the water at each inspection as well as safety hazards. There is an annual fee for the permit to operate a pool or other recreational water (such as a hot tub or wading pool) and the permit must be renewed every year.
On July 1, 2007, The Wilkes County Board of Health adopted local rules to protect private drinking water well supplies in Wilkes County. Environmental Health Services of the Wilkes County Health Department implemented the new local well rules. These rules remained in effect until July 1, 2008.
On July 1, 2008, the State Private Drinking Water Well program went into effect. The Private Drinking Water Well Program consists of existing state groundwater protection rules and rules provided by the On-Site Water Protection Section, Private Water Supply Protection Branch.
The program consists of issuing permits for new wells, repair permits for extending the casing or bore hole of an existing well, and existing well abandonment permits.
Many residents depend on private wells for their water supply. Wilkes County Health Department can test a sample, usually for a fee, when there is an unexplained illness. An Environmental Health Specialist collects the sample and sends it to the Environmental Sciences Section of the State Laboratory of Public Health in Raleigh. The most common tests run are for bacterial and chemical analysis.
The Total Coliform test is the best indicator of whether or not water is contaminated with bacteria. The coliform bacteria tested for are Enterobacter, Klebsiella, Citrobacter, and Eshericihia. The fecal coliform subgroup of total coliform is a better indicator of disease-causing bacteria in the water. If fecal coliforms are present, the water has recently been contaminated with bacteria from the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. If total coliforms are present in the sample, the water is unsafe to drink. If fecal coliforms are present, not only is the drinking water unsafe, but it also could cause diarrheal disease.
Water can also be tested for chemicals. The most common tests run on water samples are for the levels of alkalinity, arsenic, calcium, chloride, copper, fluoride, hardness, lead, iron, magnesium, manganese, nitrates, pesticides, petroleum, pH, fluoride, zinc.
Septic System (Wastewater Disposal)
The Health Department’s Environmental Health Wastewater Section is responsible for authorizing construction, installation, reuse, and repair of wastewater systems. Procedures and forms for each approval can be downloaded below.
Environmental Health is governed by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). Locally, Environmental Health enforces DENR’s regulations by making sure human waste is disposed of through approved wastewater systems. All residences, places of business, or places of public assembly must have approved wastewater systems.
New Construction and Repairs to Existing Wastewater Systems
The owner (or authorized agent) of the property must fill out an application and prepare the property for evaluation. (Applications and Instructions for preparing the property are available below for download.) When the application and the site preparation are complete, an Environmental Health Specialist will go to the site and perform a site evaluation to determine suitability for a wastewater system. 6 main factors are evaluated: topography and landscape position, soil characteristics, soil wetness, soil depth, restrictive horizons, and available space. The wastewater system is designed based on a proposed daily wastewater flow and soil criteria. The proposed daily wastewater flow for residential systems is based on number of bedrooms and/or number of residents. Non-residential flows are based on other factors which may include square footage of building, hours of usage, number of employees, and maximum occupancy. If the daily design flow is greater than 3000 gallons per day, the wastewater system plans must be reviewed and approved by DENR engineers. Following the site evaluation, the owner will be notified of the results of the evaluation.
Reuse of Existing Septic Systems
An existing wastewater system cannot be placed into reuse until it has been inspected and a permit is issued by an Environmental Health Specialist. In accordance with NC General Statutes, electrical service cannot be connected (or reconnected) to a structure until an existing system permit is obtained. Additionally, for mobile homes, if the home is disconnected from the wastewater system, an existing system permit must be obtained before another home can be transported to the site.
Final Wastewater System Approval
During construction of a wastewater system, an Environmental Health Specialist will conduct a final inspection to determine if the system has been installed in accordance with State laws, rules, and permit conditions.
Complaints for Wastewater
Complaints regarding wastewater (failing systems, illegal sink and washer drains, etc.) may be filed at the Environmental Health office. The complainant is required to give his/her name and a valid telephone number. An Environmental Health Specialist will investigate each complaint. Owners of property on which a violation is observed are issued a violation notice. If the violation is not corrected within a specified time period, appropriate legal action is taken.
Environmental Health is responsible for investigating complaints received from the public against food and / or lodging establishments.
To register a complaint, you may call (336) 651-7530.