Article by Health Commissioner Allen Beals on Eat Smart Restaurant Week receives statewide attention in the NYSAC News Magazine

Eat Smart Restaurant Week Putnam County Program Promotes Health, Supports Local Businesses

Posted on February 9, 2015 by NYSAC

By Allen Beals, MD, JD, The Commissioner of Health in Putnam County

Good nutrition is important for a long and healthy life, and local economies benefit from a strong restaurant sector. The intersection of these realities, coupled with the fact that chronic disease and obesity prevention tops the NYS Department of Health’s Prevention Agenda 2013-2017, led the Putnam County Department of Health to plan and implement a two-week restaurant event, entitled Eat Smart Restaurant Week (ESRW). The phrase “eat smart” was selected over “eat healthy,” based on the fact that the notion of “healthy” eating may be a turn-off for many, conjuring up images of a plate of steamed broccoli. The initiative was designed to spotlight the concept that “healthy and delicious can go hand in hand,” and to attract customers who were interested in both tasty offerings and good health.

Many factors contribute to the epidemic of obesity and the associated illnesses of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. Among the risk factors identified by public health researchers is a trend for Americans to consume more “away-from-home foods” than ever before. These foods often have more calories, salt and fats than home cooked meals, and are served in bigger portions as well.

Putnam County Department of Health (PCDOH) food sanitarians have worked closely with its food operators on food safety issues for decades. In fact, ensuring food safety is a fundamental health department activity. In recent years, the PCDOH’s sanitarians have expanded their role beyond informing and educating around regulations and compliance issues. The department began hosting an annual Food Operators Seminar in 2007 to provide a forum to educate about new trends in the food industry. Although the one-day program is not mandated, the event has been well attended each of the eight years it has been held. Typically nearly 40 percent of the county’s 377 food establishments attend. In addition to disseminating information and education, the gathering has been used to “read the pulse” of restaurateurs and other food preparers, to assess what training needs may be going unmet and to identify new areas of potential collaboration.

National Restaurant News, the leading trade publication for the food service industry, has reported that customers say they will eat out less frequently due to concerns about their health. Putnam food operators were aware of this market forecast and additionally felt that they might be missing out on a growing market of more health conscious diners. The ESRW concept was conceived to address this trend and had its early launch to the local industry at the March 2014 seminar. A panel discussion was held with local Putnam farmers, chefs, restaurateurs, the Health Commissioner and a manager from the Putnam County Planning Department. In addition, presentations were made by a PCDOH food sanitarian and a nutritionist, all of which served as a springboard to move the project forward and gain support from food operators.

Since there was no registration fee for participating restaurants, this new event could not only highlight more Putnam restaurants, but also could include a broader variety of food establishments, important given the fact that “away-from-home-foods” are not solely limited to dine-in restaurants. By the time ESRW kicked off in September 2014 for its two-week stretch, 35 Putnam eateries were on board. Restaurants, deli or counterstyle establishments, one “fast-food” chain and a few cafeteria-style operations all were eager to work closely with health department nutritionists. Together they finely tuned selected menu items to ensure they were both delicious and healthy.

Participants were allowed to submit between two to five recipes and a pre-established four-point criteria system was used to assess the selections. Health department nutritionists formulated the guidelines based on evidence-based practice and analyzed the recipe submissionsall at no cost to the restaurant operators. The four principles included moderate portion sizes for meat, poultry, fish, cheese, pastas and grains; an emphasis on fresh, local vegetables; healthy oils, also in moderation, and finally, salt and high sodium ingredients used sparingly. Our nutritionists, working with the chefs, tweaked each recipe until it was acceptable under our healthy choice criteria.

ESRW kicked-off with a press event, unveiling a specially designed ESRW event logo at one of the early participating restaurants. Further news releases included announcements when new restaurant menus selections were approved and “photo ops” when “participating restaurant” signage was put on display at individual locales. Marketing included media releases, social media posts, online publication and calendar listings utilized by the PCDOH; advertising dollar support from the Putnam County Tourism Office, as well as full endorsements from Putnam’s Economic Development Corporation and the Office of the County Executive. Pre-event publicity also included a 30-minute television production which aired opening week on “Good Day Hudson Valley,” featuring three owner chefs and health department staff.

Plans are already underway for the 2015 ESRW, scheduled for September 27 through October 11. Customer satisfaction survey results from the inaugural event have been collected and are being analyzed. Food operators and other stakeholders are being formally and informally solicited for their opinions, with ongoing face-to-face feedback, and a planned survey and focus groups at next year’s seminar. This input will be used to improve next year’s event.

By developing and strengthening these business and community partnerships, employing social marketing and a comprehensive promotional campaign, the Putnam County Department of Health has reimagined what public health can do to educate and inspire the public to make more informed and healthier choices in their diet.



PCDOH Launches Opioid Overdose Prevention Program

Brewster, NY— Heroin overdose deaths have risen more than 120 percent in Putnam County over recent years. Thirty-three fatalities occurred in the two-year period of 2012 and 2013, up from 15 in 2010 and 2011. These grim statistics are behind the recent launch of a NYS-approved opioid overdose prevention program by the Putnam County Department of Health (PCDOH). The department joins dozens of other counties in the state adopting this public health intervention that makes use of the antidote drug naloxone, essentially reversing the overdose.

“This epidemic has made a heartbreaking mark on families, friends and our local communities,” says Commissioner of Health Allen Beals, MD, “and we’re responding to County Executive MaryEllen Odell’s call for action in the war on addiction.” The County Executive made this a prime focus in her recent 2015 Putnam County Budget Address, introducing a campaign of education and awareness to combat the problem and challenging all agencies, public and private, to collaborate and address the issue.

Naloxone, which goes under the trade name Narcan®, blocks opioids in the nervous system for 30 to 90 minutes, and provides enough time for transport to an emergency room. The drug will be administered intranasally, (although it is also available as an injectable drug). The PCDOH is providing the medication free of charge to law enforcement and other first responders once they complete the proper training.

“Of course, this is not a solution to the problem, but it will save lives,” Dr. Beals continues.

Putnam County does not face this drug crisis alone. Drug overdose is a significant issue in the state and in fact the country, prompting NYSDOH legislation that makes it legal for nonmedical personnel to administer this prescription medicine to someone to keep an overdose from becoming fatal. The drug has been successfully prescribed and distributed to not only law enforcement, but also directly to heroin users, their families and friends in 15 states and Washington DC. The Harm Reduction Coalition reports that by the end of 2010 over 50,000 kits had been distributed nationwide and over 10,000 overdoses had been reversed, saving that many lives.

Further information on the opioid overdose prevention program is available at: and search “opioid overdose prevention.”

The Health Department’s mission is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit the PCDOH website at or visit the social media sites on Facebook at and Twitter @PutnamHealthNY.


Board of Health VP Retires; Search Begins to Fill Two Vacancies

BREWSTER, NY—Carol L. Weber, RN, has retired from her position as Vice President of the Putnam County Board of Health, leaving an opening on the seven-member Board for a lay person. The board serves in an advisory capacity to the county’s Commissioner of Health, Allen Beals, MD, JD, who has led the health department since 2012. The by-laws dictate that at least one legislator and three physicians are members of the board. The remaining four are laypersons; all must be Putnam County residents. A second opening for a physician is anticipated at year’s end.

Ms. Weber has been a member of the Board of Health since 1992. She contributed on important projects that have made significant improvements to the health and safety of Putnam residents. The ban on smoking in public places, the privatization of the County’s homecare specialists, the fight for increased funding, and the move to enlist a medical doctor as Health Commissioner…these were some of the enhancements championed by Carol over the years.

Legislator and BOH member Sam Oliverio, chairman of the Health and Safety Committee, called Ms. Weber “a true hero for her decades-long insistence that the health and safety of residents come first before all else. She will be sorely missed for her dedication and friendship, and for her contribution to so many other worthy Board of Health endeavors.” Dr. Beals commended her for “not only an invaluable contribution over the years, but also her recent guidance to me as I assumed leadership of the health department.”

The search for two candidates—a layperson and a physician—begins immediately. Board responsibilities include attendance at a monthly meeting, held from 6 to 7 p.m. on a Monday evening at the Health Department’s main office at One  Geneva Road in Brewster. Interested candidates should forward a letter of interest and resume or CV to: BOH Search, Health Department, One Geneva Road, Brewster, NY 10509. Alternatively materials may be emailed to:

Other current BOH members include Daniel C. Doyle, DMD, President; Joseph Avanzato, MD, Secretary; Louis Tartaro, Alternate Putnam County Legislature; Michael Gaesser, MD; Arthur McCormick, DVM, and Michael Nesheiwat, MD.

The Health Department’s mission is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit the PCDOH website at or visit the social media sites on Facebook at and Twitter @PutnamHealthNY


Health Commissioner Allen Beals, MD, left, and Daniel Doyle, DMD, president of the Board of Health, recognized Carol Weber for her decades of service to the board.



Questions about Ebola?

New York State has launched a new State information line to answer questions from New Yorkers about Ebola. The free info line is 1-800-861-2280. Trained staff will answer 24/7. The line is for public health information purposes only, not for those in need of medical attention.


Screening Tests for Lead Help Protect Children: International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week celebrated October 19-25

Brewster, NY—Children exposed to the environmental toxin lead face serious health risks with lifelong impact. Most child poisoning cases result from ingesting chips or inhaling dust from lead-based paint common in old homes built before 1978. In Putnam County approximately 30% of homes fall into this category. Preventing this exposure, and early identification and intervention are all crucial efforts. As a result public health law requires blood lead level (BLL) screening for children at age one and then again at two. International Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, celebrated annually each October, helps raise awareness of this serious issue and the appropriate precautions that should be taken.

“Lead poisoning has very serious neurological consequences for young children and these cases are completely preventable,” explains Allen Beals, MD, Commissioner of Health for Putnam County. “Their developing brains are particularly vulnerable and exposure can affect children’s behavior and ability to learn, as well as their growth. The first step is to make sure your child has his or her blood lead levels checked at age one, and again at two. Speak to your healthcare provider or the PCDOH. Armed with the knowledge that testing is mandated by law, parents are in a good position to ensure this is done. We can assist in getting these screenings, or provide a quick test in our office by appointment.”

Young children learning to crawl spend a lot of time on the floor and put things in their mouth. Frequent washing of hands, face, toys, bottles and pacifiers is very important. A foundation of good nutrition and eating foods high in calcium, iron and vitamin C in particular, can limit the impact if lead is ingested or inhaled.

“Lead can also harm babies before they are even born, if the pregnant mother is exposed,” continues Dr. Beals, who had a private practice as an obstetrician/gynecologist for more than 20 years before taking up public service.

Lead dust is often invisible and generated during remodeling or renovation, when old paint is scraped or sanded, but can be present at other times as well, settling on windowsills, floors and toys. Even if surfaces appear in good condition, the opening and closing of doors and windows covered with a lead-based paint will generate lead dust. Most children with lead poisoning do not look or feel sick until much later in the course of the illness. Nonetheless, damage may be occurring. The only way to know is to have your child’s BLL tested.

Lead exposure can occur in other ways as well, and reducing exposure should be routine and a priority for everyone. Tips include:

 Assume any home built before 1978 contains lead paint. Keep all painted surfaces in good condition. Renters living in homes built before 1978 should ask landlords to safely repair any peeling paint. If the landlord is not responsive, local building inspectors or town clerks may be able to assist.

 Take the proper precautions before repairing peeling paint or performing home renovations. Pregnant women, babies and children should avoid all peeling and chipped paint. Call the Health Department for information on how to paint and repair safely. Safe work practices for renovations are key to preventing contamination in a home. Hiring a certified contractor ensures that proper safety measures are followed.

 Avoid cooking, storing or serving food in leaded glass, crystal and pewter and painted china or pottery from Asia, Latin America or the Middle East.

 Individuals with jobs or hobbies with lead exposure, such as carpentry or hunting, should shower and change clothes and shoes before going home. Potentially contaminated clothes should be washed alone.

A list of children’s products that contain lead is available on the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at or by calling 800-638-2772. For more information on how to prevent childhood lead poisoning, call the Putnam County Department of Health at 845- 808-1390 or visit the New York State Department of Health web site at:

The mission of the Putnam County Department of Health is to improve and protect the health of our community. Core services include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, emergency preparedness, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit our website at; or visit our social media sites on Facebook at and Twitter @PutnamHealthNY. ###


Emerging Infections: Enterovirus D68 and Ebola

The Health Department strives daily to ensure the health and safety of Putnam County residents. Trained staff members monitor the health status of the community in order to identify emerging infections and work with community partners to reduce transmission of disease. Partners include the healthcare providers, hospitals, schools, laboratories, and the EMS community.

Enterovirus D68




Health Department is Going “Batty”

Brewster, NY— No doubt about it: it is bat season everywhere including Putnam. Bat populations normally rise in the warmer months and this year has been no different. So far this summer 61 bats have been brought in for testing to the Putnam County Department of Health. That is up about 35 specimens from last year at this time, and a sign that the capture-the-bat message is getting out. Unfortunately the health department still hears about bats being captured and then set free outside, leaving residents undergoing treatment that probably could have been avoided, if the bat had been available for testing.

“This increase in turned-in bats is great news,” explains Allen Beals, MD, Commissioner of Health. “It means we are doing our job and getting the message out that capturing a bat found in a home is so important. If the bat cannot be tested, many prophylactic treatments to prevent rabies are necessary. When the bat is caught and turned into the health department, we test it and can avoid the unnecessary and costly treatments.”

Rabies remains one of the most deadly viruses, with a 100% fatality rate if untreated. Fortunately, post-exposure prophylactic treatment is completely effective if started before symptoms begin.

The health department’s specimen prep room, where the bats are prepared for testing, opened last January making this summer the first season it has been operational. The dedicated, consolidated space provides proper ventilation for handling noxious materials. Renovations were completed with the support of County Executive MaryEllen Odell, by Putnam County personnel, making it highly cost effective. Together with the capture-the-bat initiative and the Feral Cat Task Force, the prep room enables the PCDOH to reduce the number of expensive rabies treatments in the county.

To safely capture a bat, watch the popular demo from New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) available on the Putnam County Department of Health’s website and the NYSDOH website. The video has also been posted on the PCDOH social media sites, Facebook and Twitter as well.

All possible bat exposures should be reported immediately by calling 808-1390. (If it is after hours, press extension “3” for instructions.)

The Health Department’s mission is to improve and protect the health of the Putnam County community, composed of nearly 100,000 residents. Core services include community health assessment, disease surveillance and control, environmental health protection, family health promotion and health education. For more information, please visit the PCDOH website at or visit the social media sites on Facebook at and Twitter @PutnamHealthNY.