School cafeterias earn top grade

By: By Christine S. Carroll - Staff Writer

ROCKINGHAM — School cafeterias and a Hamlet convenience store are among the most scrupulously clean food preparers in Richmond County — and have been for nearly two decades.

So say the just-conferred “Golden A” awards, which recognize 55 Richmond County restaurants, food stands, meat markets and school lunchrooms that have met ever-higher standards of cleanliness.

“They not only got an ‘A,’ they got a high ‘A’ ” in every health inspection during the past year, said county health director Dr. Tommy Jarrell, who presented the list to county commissioners this week.

Six of the 55 have been so designated all 19 years the award has been given.

Richmond County’s Board of Health fashioned its Golden A designation after a program in Brunswick County, Jarrell said Friday. The board since has disbanded and ceded its responsibilities to the County Commission.

In order to meet Golden A standards, a food preparer must earn at least a 95 percent score on all health inspections performed within a year, keep the same owner and earn no repeat violations in areas of “critical” concern, such as the proper storage of foods.

That is not to say that businesses or school cafeterias that don’t win one or more years are necessarily any less clean. They may merely have changed owners. For example, the Spring House at Ellerbe Springs has won the two years it has been under new ownership.

Passing a health inspection with a 90 guarantees an “A,” Jarrell said, noting that very few inspections resulted in grades of “B” or “C.”

“Most people get an ‘A,’ ” he said, and those who don’t have the opportunity for re-inspection.

When the program began, 30 or 40 food-preparation businesses won Golden A’s each year, Jarrell said. The number slipped a few years ago, when the state adopted tougher federal inspection requirements, he said — but it since has been on the rise.

Richmond County has about 120 permitted establishments that undergo inspections by the county’s environmental health workers, Jarrell said, “and to have half of them get to 95 or above is good.”

Convenience Corner has posted its Golden A alongside its 100 percent health rating for the year. The certificate hangs near the grill, where Michelle Gilmore prepared burger after burger Friday during a 2 p.m. rush.

“It’s part of our daily routine,” she said of careful food prep. “We clean the kitchen all day long.” Workers also wear gloves and hair nets.

The award is a point of honor, added co-worker Meghin Pond.

“You go in most places, and you see a grade of 89,” she said. “We always get a hundred.”

County Commissioner John Gardner owns Convenience Corner but had no sway in his business’s obtaining such high marks, Jarrell said . The county called in state inspectors for that particular inspection, to keep everything on the up and up.

Those winning Golden A’s for 19 years as of 2017 were Convenience Corner and the following school cafeterias: Cordova School, Fairview Heights Elementary, Richmond Senior High, Washington Street Elementary and West Rockingham Elementary schools.

No restaurant or meat market hit the 19-year mark. And Convenience Corner was the only “food stand” to do so, topping grocery store delis and produce departments, a pizza parlor and a caterer.

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By Christine S. Carroll

Staff Writer

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]

Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]