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FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions)


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Rabies and Pet Info

What do I need to know before I bring my pet to the free rabies vaccination clinic?

  • Pets must be at least three months of age to receive a rabies vaccination. Your pet’s first rabies vaccination is only good for one year.
  • Proof of previous rabies vaccination must be provided to receive a three-year certificate; otherwise a one-year certificate will be issued. Ferret vaccinations are only valid for one year. Please bring your pet’s previous rabies certificate with you to the clinic.
  • All dogs, cats and ferrets must be restrained using a leash and/or pet carrier.
  • No person shall be allowed to have more than three pets in line at one time.
  • Pets accepted at the rabies vaccination clinics include dogs, cats and ferrets.

Is there a low cost spay/neuter program for my pet?

Yes.  Click here for information.

There is a bat in my house. What should I do?

Do not let the bat get outside.  Call the Erie County Department of Health Immediately at (716) 961-6800.  If it is after regular business hours, please call (716) 961-7898. 

If professional help is not available, capture the bat safely as described below.  You will need leather or very thick work gloves (put them on), a small box or coffee can, a piece of cardboard, and tape. 

  1. When the bat lands, move slowly toward it.
  2. While wearing the gloves, put the box or coffee can over the bat.
  3. Then, slide the cardboard under the container to trap the bat inside.
  4. Tape the cardboard to the container, and punch small holes in the cardboard, allowing the bat to breathe.
  5. Immediately call the Erie County Department of Health at (716) 961-6800.  If it is after regular business hours, please call (716) 961-7898.

 Restaurants, Food Service, Business & Housing Related Issues

How do I file a complaint about a specific restaurant in Erie County?

Please call the Erie County Department of Health Environmental Health Office at (716) 961-6800.  

Can I prepare and sell food or drink items out of my home?

According to public health law, any time food or drinks are sold the individual operating the establishment is required to have the appropriate permit(s) in place prior to opening. Permits are needed in order to ensure that the products distributed to the public are safe.

Absent a festival, a temporary Food Service Establishment (FSE) permit is not appropriate since the definition of a temporary food service establishment is a place where food is prepared or handled and served to the public, with or without charge, and which operates at a fixed location in conjunction with a single event or celebration of not more than 14 consecutive days duration.  Without a permanent business, no other FSE permit is applicable.

Also, please keep in mind that most communities are restrictive to commercial operations in residential areas and may require additional permits and or fees.

For additional information or assistance, please call the Erie County Department of Health at 961-6800.   Thank you.

I would like to open a home-based bakery.  What are the rules & regulations?

This is a complex question because there is a division of responsibilities for these facilities between NYS Agriculture & Markets and the Erie County Department of Health. The 3 most common scenarios are described below.

  1. If you want to produce baked goods at home to only sell primarily wholesale (to stores, restaurants, etc.) you may need a 20-C Food Processor permit from NYS Agriculture and Markets. http://www.agmkt.state.ny.us/FS/general/license.html
  2. If you are the only employee, AND want to use just your existing kitchen equipment (no commercial equipment allowed), AND you intend to only sell wholesale (to restaurants and stores) or to sell retail only at a farm, farm stand, craft fair, flea market, farmer's market and a few other specific locations (see link below) AND are making only certain types of baked goods (see link), you may be able to get a 20-C exemption from NYS Agriculture & Markets. http://www.agmkt.state.ny.us/FS/consumer/processor.html
  3. Under most other situations, the business would be subject to regulation as a retail bakery covered under NYS Sanitary Code subpart 14-1, Food Service Establishments. A permit would be required from the Erie County Department of Health to operate the business, and use of a home kitchen that is part of the living or sleeping area of the residence would not be allowed. A separate food service kitchen, separated from living or sleeping quarters by complete partitioning and solid self-closing doors would be required.

Additionally, the local municipality should be consulted to determine whether the proposed business use of the property is allowed under the zoning regulations of that municipality.

My restaurant serves food at several local events throughout the year.  Can I obtain one health permit that would cover all these events? 

At this time, blanket temporary food service establishment health permits that would cover an operator at multiple events are not allowed by NYS code.

NYS Sanitary Code Subpart 14-2 "Temporary Food Service Establishments" states that "A "temporary food service establishment" means a place...which operates at a fixed location in conjunction with a single event...of not more than 14...days duration"

Because of this code definition, each temporary FSE permit issued must be specific as to the event and dates for which it is valid, and can only cover up to 14 days total.

Questions have also arisen whether an annual catering permit is sufficient to serve food at a temporary event, and the answer is that a catering permit does not allow the holder to serve food to the general public at a temporary event.

A Caterer is defined by NYS Sanitary code as “…person who prepares, furnishes, or prepares and furnishes food intended for individual portion service at the premises of the consumer…”. Caterers are not allowed to sell (or give away) food directly to the general public under their catering permit-they are only allowed to provide individual portion service to the consumer (interpreted as the individual or group that hired them to provide food to a closed group) at a premises under the control and supervision of the consumer that hired them (like a private home or leased/rented location).

A possible option for an operator working at many events during a year and looking to control permit costs might be to develop a mobile food service establishment or pushcart that would qualify for an annual permit. These units must comply with the requirements of NYSSC 14-4, and must be operated in conjunction with a commissary. While the initial cost for the units themselves can be substantial, this type of annual permit allows these units to set up and serve to the general public at any appropriate location throughout the County (subject to local municipal zoning and vending ordinances) for the entire year.

What is the fee for a temporary food establishment permit?

The permit fees for a Temporary Food Service Establishment vary by the length of the event. 1-3 day permits are $106, 4-7 day permits are $120, 8-14 day permits are $150.  If the permit application is submitted less than 5 days prior to the event, there is an additional $40 fee added.

We are hosting a food contest.  Does each vendor have to obtain a permit to participate in the event?  Does it make a difference whether or not the vendor serves food samples? 

A permit is only required if the vendor/participant is serving food (with or without charge) to the general public (judges are not considered the general public). If the participant does not sample or sell food to the general public, only to the judges, then no permit would be required for the participant.

The NYS Sanitary Code treats both free sampling and selling as service to the public, so either activity would require a permit. Erie County does not currently have a blanket permit option for temporary food service operations. There is a maximum fee of $1,000 per operator at an event, but this would only apply if a single operator (corporation, individual or organization) was the listed responsible party for a number of stands that would exceed $1,000 in total fees.

If you have any additional questions, or would like any additional information, please call 716-961-6800.

We would like to hold a bake sale. What do we need to do?

When a bake sale is held in a manner such that the food is prepared by and sold exclusively to members of a distinct group and where the general public is not invited, such as a school bake sale operated by a parent-teacher association or a bake sale held by members of a congregation during a church function, a permit would not be required. This is consistent with the State Sanitary Code §14-1.20, which excludes from the definition of a food service establishment those “food service operations where a distinct group mutually provides, prepares, serves and consumes the food such as a ‘covered dish supper’ limited to a congregation, club or fraternal organization.”

When a bake sale is held in such a manner that the food is being openly sold to members of the general public, such as a stand or table at a lawn fete or similar community event, then a temporary food establishment permit is usually required, and all the requirements of NY State Sanitary Code subpart 14-2 also apply, including those related to approved sources of food.

Exceptions to the temporary food establishment permit requirement for sales to the public at a community event may occur when the “community event” is considered a “retail agricultural venue”, such as a farmer’s market, flea market or craft fair. Those venues would fall under NYS Agriculture and Markets regulation (see link http://www.agmkt.state.ny.us/FS/consumer/processor.html ), and NY State Agriculture and Markets should be contacted regarding requirements they may have.

For more information, please call the Erie County Department of Health Environmental Health Division at 716-961-6800.  Thank you.

How many sinks are required to be a street vendor serving food or drinks? 

Most street vendor food and beverage carts would be regulated as Pushcarts by the ECDOH, and would be required to comply with NYS Sanitary Code Subpart 14-4.

Subpart 14-4.141 requires pushcarts to"...have handwashing facilities for the operator. This handwashing facility is to be a supply of clean, potable water, soap or detergent, a receptacle to hold waste water, and paper towels." This would be the only "sink" required to be on the pushcart.

However, the code (14-4.31(b)) also requires pushcarts to be operated in conjunction with a Mobile Food Service Establishment Commissary which "...is used as the base of operations for one or more...pushcarts, where such unit or units are serviced, cleaned, supplied, maintained, and where the equipment, utensils and facilities are serviced, cleaned and sanitized." This commissary is required to have additional sinks (such as a 3-basin sink for manual warewashing of pans, utensils, etc.) and other equipment/facilities (storage, bathrooms, etc.) that the pushcart operator would use before and after the pushcart was taken to the foodservice location.

How hot does water need to be for hand washing?

The temperature of water is not as important as the rubbing action of the hands with soap followed by rinsing with clean water. The water should be warm enough to allow the person to comfortably wash their hands long enough to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. A comfortable water temperature for most people is between 110-120 degrees. To prevent scalding, the water should never be hotter than 120 degrees.  For more information, go to http://www.cdc.gov/handhygiene/.

Are employees required to wear gloves when preparing food? 

Bare hand contact with any food, including ice, that does not receive heat treatment prior to serving is a violation of the sanitary code.  Compliance can be accomplished with the use of suitable utensils, such as tongs or spoons, deli paper, napkins, or sanitary gloves. Examples of tasks in which hand contact must be eliminated are sandwich making, slicing cold cuts and cheeses, tossing salads, and assembling fresh fruit or vegetable platters. One should always be aware that the same cross-contamination problems associated with contaminated bare hands (i.e., transfer of bacteria from raw food to ready-to-eat food) can occur with inappropriate glove use; therefore, if gloves are used, care must be taken to ensure they are changed at appropriate times, such as after touching raw food or non-food items and before touching ready-to-eat food.

Is it mandatory for restaurant staff in Erie County to be qualified in ServSafe® or another safe food handling program?

New York State (NYS) amended NYS Public Health Law to require restaurants to employ at least one person trained and certified in food safety.  In order for this law to be implemented, the NYS Department of Health (NYSDOH) must promulgate regulations.  We have been advised that the NYS Sanitary Code for Food Service Establishments is in the process of being updated and it is expected to include these new employee training requirements. The specific courses that will be accepted, and how frequently they will need to be renewed, have not been finalized at this time.  Further information will be posted as it is available.

I work in a restaurant in Erie County. Do I have to pull my hair back or wear a hair net while working?

The State Food Code states "All persons within a food service establishment who work in areas where food is prepared are to use hats, caps or hair nets as restraints which minimize hair contact with hands, food and food-contact surfaces." Each employer may have work rules that exceed this code requirement. 

Is it a violation of sanitary code for food workers (including bartenders and wait staff) to handle food after touching money with gloves?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Retail Food Protection Branch has issued an interpretation that "money is not as heavily laden with microorganisms as commonly believed. Microorganisms cannot survive well on inanimate objects because of the lack of proper temperature, moisture and nutrients necessary for them to reproduce." (Source: NYSDOH Environmental Health Manual).  Therefore, touching money with gloves and then handling food without first removing or changing the gloves is not a violation under current NYSDOH regulations. However, this practice creates an aesthetic concern and prompts numerous consumer complaints. Therefore, food service operators are encouraged, but cannot be required, to discontinue this practice and/or revise operational protocols to separate job tasks whenever possible.

Is it mandatory that a public restaurant have dedicated employee restrooms or a family restroom.

The NYS Sanitary Code (14-1) for food service establishments requires that adequate, conveniently located and properly installed (maintained and supplied) toilet and associated hand-wash facilities be provided for employee use, and that the facilities be accessible at all times. 14-1 further requires that when the facility has a seating capacity of 20 patrons or more, that bathroom facilities must be provided for patrons.

NYSDOH guidance on this issue requires separate men's & women's bathroom facilities be provided for employee use when there are 5 or more employees.

There is no restriction in 14-1 and NYSDOH guidance on this issue that dedicated employee bathroom facilities must be provided, and there is no mention of family bathrooms.

Please check with your local municipal NYS Building Code enforcement officials, as the Uniform Building Code or local laws may have requirements above and beyond those that we enforce.

Is it illegal to smoke in all bars and restaurants in Erie County?

Yes.  Effective July 24, 2003, the amended New York State Clean Indoor Air Act (Public Health Law, Article 13-E) prohibits smoking in virtually all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. The changes in the Act reflect the state's commitment to ensuring that all workers are protected from secondhand smoke. For more information about the NY State Clean Indoor Air Act, please go to http://www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/clean_indoor_air_act/general.htm.

What are the laws regarding allowing service animals in restaurants?

Click here for rules & regulations. 

Business (other than Restaurants/Food Service) Related Issues

How do I file a complaint about a grocery store?

  • To report a food related issue in a grocery store, contact the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag & Markets) by calling (716) 847-3185 or through their website at www.agmkt.state.ny.us/contact.html.
  • To report underage alcohol sales in a grocery store, contact the New York State Liquor Authority by calling (716) 847-3035 or through their website at http://www.abc.state.ny.us/contact-directory.
  • To report underage tobacco sales in a grocery store, contact the Erie County Department of Health by calling (716) 961-6800. 

How do I file a complaint about a beauty/nail salon or a spa?

Anyone who believes he or she is a victim of an untrustworthy or incompetent licensee of the Department of State, which includes beauty salons and spas, or who is aware of unlicensed conduct, should contact the Department of State at (212) 417-5747 or access the Department’s website at www.dos.state.ny.us and complete a licensee complaint form.  You will find additional information about beauty salons at www.dos.state.ny.us/licensing/guides/guidetosalons.html.  Thank you.

How do I file a complaint about a health care provider, hospital or nursing home?  

The New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) oversees health care providers, hospitals and nursing homes.  Please contact the NYSDOH at 1-800-804-5447 or through e-mail at hospinfo@health.state.ny.us

The building I live in or work in is making me sick. Can the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) test the building?

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) receives many inquiries regarding "testing" of environments.  It is important to note that random testing for unknown substances causing unidentified or poorly defined ailments is generally neither helpful, sound public health practice, or even scientifically or logistically possible.

The word "testing" is often used by the public in a nonspecific way.  However, when the word is used scientifically it can refer to numerous different procedures by many different kinds of laboratories to discover thousands and thousands of different agents.  Categories of agents include biological, chemical, and radiological; and, within each of these categories there are many different subcategories of agents.  For example, biological agents include bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and molds.  Each of these subcategories is further divided into individual agents (species) each of which may require a very different and very specific test or series of tests to detect.  For some agents, there may not be any scientifically accepted tests.

The investigation of any link between the environment and human illness should begin with a clear medical diagnosis.  Therefore, the ECDOH recommends that individuals concerned about symptoms, or other health complaints, should first see their health care provider for further evaluation, and if warranted, referral to a specialist.  If a diagnosis can be made, AND if the condition has been shown scientifically to have a potential environmental cause, then focused testing of the environment MAY be of benefit.  However, testing is rarely indicated and would need to be done by a third party since the ECDOH does not routinely test buildings

It is also important to note that an individual case of any given disease generally should not trigger an environmental investigation.  A situation in which there are abnormally increased numbers of individuals with the same diagnoses who have a common link to an environment (e.g., co-workers) MAY warrant an environmental investigation.  Although household members share a common environment, a common ailment could be related to genetics rather than the environment.  Epidemiological evaluation and complex statistical analysis is often necessary to determine whether the number of individuals with the same diagnosis is abnormally increased, or just the expected incidence in the community (i.e., background incidence).

The ECDOH can only address and enforce conditions that are regulated by public health law.  Building maintenance is the responsibility of the property owner; and, the role of the ECDOH in owner-occupied dwellings is very limited.  There are home inspection companies that may offer "sick building" evaluations and may be able to provide consultation or testing.  You may find these companies listed in the telephone book or in other sources.  For more information about sick building syndrome and building related illnesses please go to EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/sbs.html.

I have a question or concern about health related policies or practices in my worksite or by my employer.  Who can I contact?

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) generally does not have primary jurisdiction over worksite related matters.  Therefore, we suggest that you contact one of the following agencies for assistance.

  • National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) at 1-800-232-4636
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at (212) 337-2378 and/or
  • Public Employee Safety & Health (PESH) at 716-847-7133
  • NY State Department of Labor at 1-888-4-NYSDOL

Housing Related Issues

I think I have mold in my house.  Can the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) test it and clean it up?

Mold is part of the natural environment; and, therefore, mold is generally considered to be present everywhere both indoors and outdoors.  However, molds are usually not a problem indoors unless mold spores land on a wet or damp object and begin overgrowing.  Typically, mold will not overgrow in the absence of moisture. 

Testing for, and documenting the presence of, mold is usually of little value especially since mold is generally expected to be found throughout our environment.  How to interpret positive tests results remains unclear.  (Also, please see the answer to the above question titled The building I live in or work in is making me sick.  Can the Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) test the building?)  The ECDOH does not perform tests for mold.

Mold overgrowth can be prevented and controlled indoors by limiting excessive moisture.  If there is mold growth in your home, you should clean up the mold AND fix the water problem.  If you clean up the mold, but do not fix the water problem, most likely, the mold problem will return.  The ECDOH does not clean up mold. 

Currently there are no regulatory standards for mold mitigation. In limited circumstances, the ECDOH may have some authority to require that building owners eliminate conditions (e.g., leaking pipes) that could be causing mold overgrowth.    

‚Ä™For additional information on mold testing, proper cleanup techniques, and mold and moisture prevention please go to: http://www.epa.gov/mold/moldresources.html.  If you would like additional information about mold, please call the ECDOH Environmental Health central office at 716-961-6800.

How can I find out if the house I am living in has ever been tested for Lead?

Please call the Erie County Department of Health Environmental Health central office 716-961-6800.

Do home test kits for lead really work? 

You may have heard about home test kits, which are sold for use in the home to detect lead in paint, soil, and dust (and, in some cases, water, dishware, glasses, and ceramics). A chemical reaction occurs when chemicals in the kit are exposed to lead, causing a color change. The State Department of Health and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency do not recommend home test kits to detect lead in toys, paint, dust, or soil. Studies show that these kits are not reliable enough to tell the difference between high and low levels of lead. At this time, the kits are not recommended for testing performed by either homeowners or certified lead-based paint professionals.

Septic Systems

How do I find out the location and age of my septic system?

The ECDOH keeps records indicating the location and age of many private sewage disposal systems.  The homeowner of the property may call 716-961-6800 to obtain a copy of the record if one is available.

My basement has flooded with sewer water.  What should I do? 

You should contact the appropriate sewer district that covers the municipality where you live.   For a list of sewer district, go to http://www.erie.gov/dsm/district_info.asp.  You may also want to contact the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) at (716) 851-7200 for additional guidance.  Click here for information about sewer water clean-up.

The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) becomes involved only when there is an imminent public health threat.  In the absence of a public health threat, the ECDOH has no authority or oversight over operational sewer systems.

I have a septic system and would like to add an additional bedroom on my house.  Do I need to do anything to my septic system?

Adding an additional bedroom will not significantly increase the waste flows for your home.  Therefore, the ECDOH would not require installation of a new system or modifications to your current system at this time.  However, please be aware that if you decide to sell your home the ECDOH will only certify the home as having the original number of bedrooms since that is the current sizing of your septic system.  If you plan to sell your home using the additional bedroom then a new septic system may need to be installed.   For more information, please call the ECDOH at 716-961-6800.


 Vaccines

I am traveling to a foreign country. Where can I get the required and recommended vaccinations?

An excellent resource for information about required vaccines and traveler's health can be found on the CDC Travelers' Health website.  For a list of local travel vaccine clinics, click here.

Does the ECDOH have an Immunization Clinic?

Yes.  Click here to see which immunizations are available from the ECDOH.  

Where can I obtain a copy of my immunization records?

Parents should keep track of their child's vaccination history. The only records that exist are the ones provided to parents when the vaccination is administered, and the ones in the medical record of the doctor and/or clinic where the vaccines are given. Sometimes schools hold the vaccination records for a year or two. New York State law requires that schools keep individual immunization records 6 years, or 3 years after the individual reaches age 18, whichever is longer. 

Finding old immunization records can be especially difficult (or even impossible) for adults. To avoid having to hunt for old records and possibly repeating vaccinations that cannot be documented, patients should make sure that all immunization providers give them a written record of their vaccines. If a patient's immunization record has been lost, there are tips he/she can use for locating the records. 

Learn more:

Today an increasing number of physicians and parents are also taking advantage of electronic immunization registries to keep track of their children's shots. Learn more:

You can download an adult immunization record card at http://www2.erie.gov/immunizewny/sites/www2.erie.gov.immunizewny/files/uploads/pdfs/adultizcard.pdf

If you would like more information about NYSIIS, please contact your health care provider.  For more information about immunizations, please call the ECDOH Immunization Action Plan at 716-858-2373. 

Where can I get the Shingles vaccine? 

You should first contact your health care provider to see if he/she offers this vaccine. If your provider does not offer this vaccine, then click here for a list of sites that may offer it.  Also, many pharmacies now carry this vaccine as well (with a prescription from your health care provider). 

 Miscellaneous

How can I obtain a copy of birth and death certificates?

You will find information about obtaining your birth certificate at http://www.health.ny.gov/vital_records/

How do I dispose of medications and needles? 

Click here for information about proper disposal of medications and needles. 

How do I file a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request?

Click here to go to the Erie County Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) web page.

How do I apply for an internship with the ECDOH?

Please complete and return the Internship Application.  

Where are Erie County job openings posted?

Erie County job openings are posted on the following: 

How do I apply for WIC Benefits?

For information about WIC, please go to the Catholic Charities website at www.ccwny.org or call (716) 332-3304 or (716) 332-0830.

The Erie County Department of Health does not provide medical advice.  The information provided on the Erie County Department of Health website is not an attempt to practice medicine and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  It is for informational purposes only.  Always seek the advice of your personal physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or issue.  Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of the content found on the Erie County Department of Health website or this correspondence. 

Where can I find information on a specific disease or health condition?

For information about a specific disease or condition, please go to the New York State Department of Health’s website.