By Tyler Browning
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH -- People are sick and no one knows what's causing it. That is often the scenario Paul Minshew and his team faces as he investigates food borne outbreaks in our area.
Mr. Minshew is right for the job. His extensive experience and passion for environmental health make him an expert in the area. This is his 36th year with the state Department of Health with 27 of those years at the Volusia County Health Department.
This environmental manager is highly respected around the state for his knowledge of public health. You'll find Mr. Minshew involved in major roles such as the Regional Disaster Response Team coordinator, incident commander for public health emergencies, an expert in zoonotic and food borne illness investigations and also serving as backup public information officer.
"We are delighted to have someone of Paul's caliber onboard. He is extremely dedicated to public health and has worked with his team to advance the mission of the Volusia County Health Department and the Florida Department of Health," said Dr. Celeste Philip, acting director.
There are also a number of honors on his wall, including the 2004 Florida Environmental Health Association award for meritorious service and the Florida Association of Food Protection's Environmental Specialist of the year award in 2011.
Mr. Minshew has always had a passion for public health, a passion that started while in high school when he took a conservation class in O'Fallon, Ill. Back in the early '70s, the environmental movement was booming with programs to protect our air and water.
"I was fascinated by conservation and I always wanted to work outdoors," Mr. Minshew said. "Environmental health was my calling."
He is making his mark on the county by managing a number of important community programs that protect the health and safety of our citizens. Some of these programs may be unknown to the average resident who would not imagine the health department role in these areas.
An important program that Mr. Minshew oversees is the Community Hygiene Program. This program encompasses inspections and disease outbreak investigations in such areas as Food Hygiene, Bio-Medical Waste, Body Piercing, Tattoos, Tanning Salons and Group Care. The Community Hygiene Program helps to maintain a standard of living that all citizens expect in our country.
The Food Hygiene Program ensures food protection in adult-living facilities, schools, civic organizations, bars that do not serve food, and detention facilities. The goal of this program is to inspect the safety of the food from food-borne illnesses and the sanitization of the kitchens in which the food is prepared.
"Our food hygiene program has probably changed the most. When I first started I inspected restaurants and grocery stores, but that changed in 1990 with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulations inspecting restaurants and the state Department of Agriculture inspecting grocery stores," Mr. Minshew said.
Bio-medical waste is also referred to as Bio-hazardous material. These materials contain virus and bacteria that could potentially get people sick if not handled and disposed of properly. This program offers proper training in the handling of such materials and how to dispose of them properly.
"We are inspecting any business that generates bio-medial wastes to make sure they are properly training employees and handling hazardous materials properly. It can not be thrown into the regular garbage," he said.
In the 1940s, people migrated to Florida in mobile homes and used those homes to create communities. Today, these communities still exist and the Environmental Health department helps to ensure these communities are safe to live in. Inspections of the mobile home parks include proper sewage disposal, clean drinking water, and vermin control. "Somewhat unique to Volusia County are the temporary campgrounds that appear during special events such as Bike Week and Speed Week. We are making sure they have sanitary facilities," Mr. Minshew said.
The Daytona Beach area is no stranger to body arts and tattooing. The state Department of Health began regulating body-piercing facilities more than 10 years ago. Beginning this year, Volusia County Health Department inspectors began working with tattoo business owners to bring them into compliance with a new state law requiring the regulation of establishments that provide tattoos. The inspection looks at infection control, equipment sanitization, and employee training.
"This is a very important program that is taken very seriously because of the threat of the spread of blood-borne illnesses," said Mr. Minshew. "It was the tattoo artists who requested that DOH regulate their industry."
Tanning salons are inspected to make sure the equipment is safe and sanitary for customers to use and to make sure employees are trained in how to use the equipment. "It is important that workers are properly trained to safely operate the equipment so that customers are not injured."
Our staff also inspects group care residential establishments such as adult living facilities, treatment centers, public and private schools and foster homes. These facilities are inspected for health, sanitation and safety. "We work closely with the facilities especially if they report an outbreak such as norovirus, scabies or influenza," Mr. Minshew said.
Besides the Community Hygiene Program, the Environmental Health Office is also involved in a number of important public health programs to protect the health of our citizens.
"We are working to prevent diseases and injury of environmental origin," he said.
During a normal day, Mr. Minshew interacts with nearly all of the 22 staff members who work in the Environmental Health section that he oversees. He reviews inspection reports, attends meetings, handles daily issues, consults with co-workers and the general public to troubleshoot issues and more. Thirty six years of public health and counting. Loving life- loving public health.
Tyler Browning is a Public Information intern for the Volusia County Health Department. She is a Communications Studies major at Stetson University.