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Health Department Regulates More Than Food

New assistant director scope goes beyond restaurant inspections.

It’s 10:30 a.m. on Valentine’s Day and the received a call from a resident about a possible health concern. But this issue does not entail food or a restaurant but rather a resident’s home.

“Those are the types of calls we get during the week,” said the new Assistant Director Angela Braun. “We also answer a lot of general questions and do a lot of referring.”

Braun came to Belmont’s Department of Health after serving in Billerica as its senior health agent.

“This is a great change of pace here. I’m doing more with housing and emergency preparedness,” she said, as restaurant inspections are just one component of the education and enforcement piece that fall under the responsibilities the Belmont Health Department.

“We serve the community as a whole,” she said. In the past, people with Braun’s job were called sanitarians, but nowadays the field has expanded to environmental health specialists.

The department main role is to prevent disease and sickness, and that general health, sanitary and environmental codes are enforced.

According to the state's Sanitary Code for Fitness and Habitation, the department performs housing inspections to ensuring that someone has a healthy and safe place to live. The Health Department may look at the number of electrical outlets and windows.

Their purview goes as far as providing information on and regulating tenant’s rights when renting a home. The department’s responsibility can vary in degrees regarding outlining rights and regulations from enforcing mandates centered on pre-payments to how long it should take a landlord to replace a broken hot water heater.

They are also there for those incidents where one may not know whose exact jurisdiction it falls under, police or fire department. For instance if there is an oil spill when filling a tank that supplies an oil-burning boiler, the health department will help clean it up.

Residents can also rely on the department to intervene if the suspect their landlord is cross metering.

The department also would get involve if a resident was improperly storing trash or if a neighbor was overcrowding a shared residential property with trash, like the front steps of the complex.

Health inspection includes housing

In addition, they also can be involved in new construction or repairs on home.

“If someone was sanding their wooden deck, we would need to ensure that the airborne particles or debris were not hazardous to others and that it was free of lead,” said Braun.      

In the office on the second floor of 19 Moore St., residents can stop in for pamphlets on how to prevent the spread of diseases including HIV and testing.

As far as food is concerned, the department does ensure that it comes from a safe approved source and inspect locations outside of a restaurant.

“We regulate the vendors at the farmers market. The farmers that sell strictly vegetables are low risk, and if there is someone selling homemade pasta that would be a higher risk.”

In either case, Braun explained it is up to the health department to validate the source and ensure it was made according to health codes.

As the inspectors would know the source for Shaw’s Supermarket meat and vegetables, it is sometimes those menu or food items that are not known or readily made in the United States.

A hypothetical example was if a Tibetan restaurant served an ethnic drink, such as yak’s milk, it would be up to the inspectors to determine the source of that product was approved and prepared the product safely.

“We ask a lot of questions,” said Braun such as when she sees unfamiliar spices in a kitchen.

Like detectives and students at the same time, they learn and are knowledgeable about varying cultures and their methods of preparing food as part of the job of inspecting restaurants with authentic menus.   

Braun and Health Director Stefan Russakow explained that when it comes to food, they are there to teach business owners how to design their facilities like an “operating room.”

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