Edinburg will soon take over the responsibility from Hidalgo County to handle the process for health permit certification for food establishments in the city.

Following new ordinance passed by the City Council at their regular meeting on Feb. 18, implementation of the ordinance is set to begin at a brisk pace in March. The city will also begin issuing permits for restaurants opening during that time.

Edinburg will notify the County of Hidalgo of the new ordinance this week. Planning and Zoning, which will certify new and existing establishments says the regulations for establishments will be similar to the County using the standard form put out by the State Department of Health Services (SDHS).

The timing was right to begin protecting public health at the local level, according to Edinburg Planning and Zoning which says the process is streamlined because potential business in the city would apply for the health permit while concurrently applying for a building permit.

“It shortens the process, people don’t have to go to one agency or another,” said P&Z director Juan Lopez. “We felt the timing was right because of the growth that the city had.”

There are currently more than 400 businesses that handle food in Edinburg. Inspections would include schools, adult day care centers, hospitals, convenience stores. Cook-off events and carnivals would be issued a temporary permit of 14 days, according to Edinburg P&Z.

There are three major categories of inspection reporting. SDHS looks at food temperature, proper handling of food, facility and equipment requirement, Lopez said

P&Z says it will go an “extra step” for food handlers or kitchen personnel by requiring a mandatory Food Handlers Certificate following a two and a half hour training session. Trained personnel by the city will highlight the three categories of inspection by SDHS.

The City will also require a Food Managers Certificate directed to large scale establishments including hospitals and franchisees.

“That’s a good thing because we have met with other cities, and it shows that someone who has gone through training for food handling will reassure the public that they are informed of the do’s and don’ts for food safety purposes,” Lopez said.

Edinburg P&Z says it will not require all food establishments to apply for the new health permits at once. Following a public city meeting with food vendors in March, where the City will go over the requirements of the new ordinance, plans call for most establishments to be licensed by the city within six months.

Existing businesses with a permit from the County will be notified by the City. Edinburg P&Z says it will prefer to have existing business certified within the six months.

“We would prefer to have them within the six month period if we had to stretch it until their permits are expired then we will do that as well but right now our idea is to get it under the six month period,” Lopez said.

“As per our action plan, we are looking at actually April to begin working our way into it, it’s not going to be immediate,” Lopez said. “We will have to notify the public…if it takes a little longer that’s fine but we are trying to see if we can do it within a six month period.”