Anyone who has worked in the service industry knows that getting your food handler’s card is not an easy process. And now that Coconino County will soon only be accepting the National Restaurant Association standard, it will make getting certified much more difficult. That’s why Mark Molinaro, associate executive director and chef of NAU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (SHRM), and Jamie Thousand, owner-operator of Satchmo’s Cajun and BBQ, are working together to offer free Food Handlers and Manager Certificate Exam proctoring to Flagstaff community members in the service industry.
“Luckily, we are already teaching the standard recognized nationally,” Molinaro said. “However, this new county standard means hundreds of locals will need to update their qualifications within a timeframe that could be tricky given the requirement of in-person proctoring.”
With the help of SHRM lecturer Lisa Bliss and associate professor Wallace Rande, Molinaro is making use of NAU’s space and talent by offering opportunities for people to take the exam in a live-proctoring setting.
Education aims to prepare students for the “real world” but what if the “real world” helped prepare people for education? Molinaro and Thousand know firsthand how these areas of life overlap and flow back into each other. Anyone who works with food is required to obtain this certification, and there must always be a food manager with the additional certification present during all shifts. This certification requirement affects much of the population and Molinaro and his colleagues are giving their time and expertise to meet the needs of the community.
“The first service event was held recently for our neighborhood hospitality businesses, and it went well,” Molinaro said. “We were able to proctor the exam for around 50 business professionals in our community.”
SHRM is no stranger to developing a new curriculum, having created a course and online exam for the past food and manager certification as well as a COVID food safety certification at the beginning of the pandemic. Housed in Franke’s Economic Policy Institute, SHRM designed the online program to facilitate teaching and proctoring exams online for professionals looking to meet these requirements. With the challenge of the in-person proctoring required for the new certification, Molinaro discussed the plan for the proctoring to be one hour for review and one hour to administer the test. Flagstaff locals are expected to make up the largest concentration of professionals attending to update their credentials. However, Thousand has received interest from companies in northern Arizona located in Sedona, Williams and Cottonwood. Given the need, the reach and the tireless work of the NAU faculty, this program could potentially get thousands of people through to keep their credentials updated and our local restaurants staffed with eligible employees
“This work is important because it’s a requirement by the county for professionals currently working in the field,” Thousand said. “The positive response has been overwhelming.”
“It was exciting to see so many business leaders and owners from local restaurants present at this event,” Molinaro said. Businesses represented included Salsa Brava, Fat Olives, Satchmo’s, Sodexo, Historic Brewing Company, Fratelli’s, NexVeg Local Alternative and Simply Delicious Catering.
Molinaro and his fellow volunteers will offer another round of this test for local businesses in the coming months, allowing even more locals working in the industry to get certified. Needs often necessitate action, but Molinaro and his culinary circle are proactive to anticipate needs, discuss and develop ideas. He and other like-minded culinary professionals, including Thousand, meet, when possible, to discuss different opportunities that take students out of the classroom and sometimes, bring working professionals back into the classroom
SHRM researches and hopes to be a resource center to help with the development of sous-vide cooking for those looking for the right guidelines and certification. Other goals include shedding light on the charcuterie sausage-making process and facilitating conversations and relationship building when it comes to health, safety, science, training and expertise for the NAU and Flagstaff community.