Jefferson County, Colo. — Ensuring that our community has access to safe, healthy and contaminant-free food is a core pillar of public health. At Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH), our Environmental Health Services team works diligently with retail food establishments, including restaurants, grocery stores, school cafeterias, food trucks and more, to make sure food safety standards are met. This September for National Food Safety Education Month, we encourage all members of our community to learn more about how to prevent foodborne illness and keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
According to the CDC [external link], 1 in 6 people in the U.S. will get sick with a foodborne illness each year. The good news is that rates of foodborne illness are far lower than they were decades ago, before strong food safety standards were implemented into law and the science around how to keep food safe at home had advanced.
“We now know there are many ways to prevent foodborne illnesses before they even happen,” said Mindi Ramig, Environmental Health Supervisor and Retail Food Safety Program Manager at JCPH. “Luckily, most families can prevent serious infection and illness by taking steps at home in their own kitchens to keep food safe. Our team is here to do the rest.”
The team at JCPH conducts inspections at more than 2,000 retail food establishments in Jefferson County each year, and each inspector works collaboratively with these facilities to help ensure robust food safety education, awareness and compliance with state laws and regulations. The results of these inspections are available for all members of the public to access, and JCPH encourages our community members to check out the food safety reports [external link] from restaurants in their area as they choose where to eat. From January 2021 through May 2022, 89 percent of all retail food establishments received a passing health inspection.
But food safety doesn’t stop at the door of a restaurant or grocery store. There are a number of important tips residents can follow to prevent foodborne illnesses at home, but the top four simple steps to remember are: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
Clean: Wash your hands and cooking surfaces in your kitchen, dining area or any other prep area often.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after preparing food. Always wash hands after handling uncooked meat, chicken or seafood, as well as after handling raw flour or eggs.
- When preparing food, wash utensils, cutting boards and countertops after each item is prepared.
- Rinse all fruits and vegetables under running water.
Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate!
- Did you know? Raw foods, like meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, can spread germs to ready-to-eat food items unless they are safely separated and stored.
- When grocery shopping, keep all meats separate from other foods.
- When you are storing raw meat in the refrigerator, keep these items separate from all others, and store them in sealed containers or packages so the juices don’t leak onto other foods.
- Use different cutting boards for different purposes – one for meat, and one for produce, bread and other foods that won’t be cooked.
- DO NOT wash raw meat, poultry or eggs. This actually spreads germs around your sink and countertops.
Cook: Right item, right temperature.
- The best — and only — way to tell if food is fully and safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. When food reaches an internal temperature high enough to kill germs, that’s when it’s safe to eat. Learn your way around a food thermometer [external link], including the correct temperatures common items should be cooked to:
- Whole cuts of beef, veal, lamb or pork (including fresh ham): 145°F (allow meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
- Fish with fins: 145°F
- Ground meats, such as beef and pork: 160°F
- All poultry, including ground poultry: 165°F
- Leftovers and casseroles, as well as microwaved food: 165°F
- Crosscheck this list [external link] for other items
Chill: Refrigerate food promptly.
- The danger zone for quick growth of bacteria is 40-140°F. This means that at room temperature, your food can become unsafe quickly.
- Set the temperature for your fridge at or below 40°F and your freezer at or below 0°F.
- Familiarize yourself on when to throw out food before it becomes [external link] unsafe to eat. If you are able, consider composting to reduce food waste going into landfills.
- Package warm or hot food into several clean, shallow containers and then refrigerate. It is okay to put small portions of hot food in the refrigerator since they will chill faster.
- When putting away groceries, make sure all perishable food is refrigerated within 2 hours. If food is exposed to high temperatures above 90°F, such as in a hot car or outdoors, make sure to refrigerate within 1 hour.
- When thawing food, choose a safe method, like thawing in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave. Never thaw food on the counter.
Even with all these steps, the reality is that some cases of foodborne illness will be identified and diagnosed in our community each year. If you or a loved one are concerned you may have gotten sick from food, please report it to the Environmental Health Services team at JCPH using our food-related illness form. Quick reporting helps us quickly identify sources of foodborne outbreaks and prevents more people from possibly getting sick.
To learn more about food safety efforts at JCPH, please visit our website. In addition, Jeffco community members can access education and resources around food safety at:
About Jefferson County Public Health
Public health is what we do collectively to prevent illness and premature death and promote health in our neighborhoods and communities. Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is a nationally accredited health department committed to promoting and protecting health across the lifespan for all people through prevention, education and partnerships. To learn more about JCPH visit https://www.jeffco.us/public-health. You can also follow JCPH on Twitter @JeffcoPH [external link], Instagram @JeffcoPH [external link] and Facebook @jeffcopublichealth [external link].