Food establishments in Santa Cruz County will officially begin operating under new health code regulations beginning next month, with the sole exception of wineries.

Following a 20-minute executive session on the topic, the County Board of Supervisors resumed the public meeting on Tuesday to unanimously approve the decision, stating that they were “suspending implementation for the wineries until April 1.”

“The wineries are trying to run legislation through the House, through the state Legislature, regarding the issue,” Supervisor Bruce Bracker told the NI after the meeting. “But in the meantime, we’re moving forward on working with the wineries on their forms and what’s expected, so it was a fair compromise.”

The decision came after a years-long battle between county officials and vintners in the Sonoita-Elgin area, who insisted that it was unfair to inspect wineries under regular food establishment regulations since most of the inspection items didn’t apply to their businesses.

At a Dec. 18 board meeting, local vintners had asked the county supervisors to consider postponing their new fee schedules and health code regulations until the Arizona Legislature made a decision on exempting wineries, breweries and distilleries from the regular state code.

County officials approved the new fee schedule for all establishments, but postponed making a decision to approve the new county health code until Tuesday’s meeting.

“We’re working on the forms that we’ll be using in regards to wineries because they are different from bars, they are different from restaurants,” Bracker said, ultimately agreeing with the vintners’ longstanding argument.

As for other food establishments in Santa Cruz County, the new health code implies several changes including a new scoring system for health inspections, in which points are deducted from the establishment for each violation.

The new code also requires that a certified food manager be on site at all times, as opposed to the current code, which only requires the person in charge at any given moment to be “knowledgeable,” but not necessarily certified.

Several restaurant owners in the county had complained at previous meetings that the certifications would result in costly measures for their businesses and employees. However, no restauranteurs spoke up against the new health code at this week’s meeting.

The new Santa Cruz County Health Code will become effective Feb. 1.

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