Foodborne illnesses have been headlining the news in recent years, from Chipotle’s 2015 Norovirus outbreaks to the recent contamination of strawberries imported to the U.S. from Egypt that sparked cases of Hepatitis A. September marks National Food Safety Education Month, also known as National Food Safety Month, which was created to raise awareness about preventing foodborne illness and encourage better food practices from restaurants to household kitchens. Started in 1994 by the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe program, this initiative is now widely recognized by federal public health agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). This year’s theme, “Notorious Virus,” highlights ways to lower instances of Norovirus – called “winter vomiting bug” in the UK – and Hepatitis A, two leading causes of foodborne illness.
Each year, food-related sickness affects 48 million Americans, results in 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, and costs the national economy an average of $15.6 million. Local health departments (LHDs) work year round to reverse these staggering consequences by improving food safety in the communities they serve. National Food Safety Education Month is a great opportunity to amplify their efforts. Whether providing training to restaurants and food retailers on how to protect their patrons from Norovirus, or educating community members on the importance of washing their hands before meal time, there are many ways for local health officials to get involved throughout September. The CDC, ServSafe, and NACCHO have an abundance of resources that LHDs can use to spread the word about food safety.
Some of the newly CDC released tools include:
- A new webpage on food allergies related to knowledge and attitudes of restaurant managers and staff;
- A new article in the Journal of Food Protection examining state adoption of the key Food Code provisions; and
- A new CDC infographic about how certified kitchen managers can improve restaurant food safety and save money.
All of the CDC featured resources can be viewed, here. ServSafe has very useful food safety education tools including infographics on handwashing, cleaning procedures after a bodily fluid spill, and a timeline of Norovirus Outbreak. Their website also includes interactive activities and videos highlighting key facts about foodborne illness and how to reduce their risk.
NACCHO’s Food Safety and Defense Team, part of the Environmental Health department, has developed a variety of resources to support and build LHD capacity in food safety. Through the Mentorship Program for Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards and the Food Safety Workgroup, NACCHO offers forums for LHD staff to interact with their peers and receive guidance and resources on food safety. In addition, food safety resources are distributed through a monthly e-newsletter, the Food Safety Leaders List, and highlighted in the NACCHO Food Safety Toolkit. NACCHO also supports the Council to Improve Foodborne Outbreak Response (CIFOR) as a co-chair, helping to develop and promote various food safety resources, available here. Finally, NACCHO has developed various policy statements, such as Safety in the Food System, Foodborne Disease Outbreak Response, and Diagnostic Testing for Enteric Disease, advising local health departments on preventing and responding to foodborne disease outbreaks.
Foodborne illness does not have to be a serious public health risk in the U.S., but we must continue to improve food safety at the local, state, and national levels. Like most health related efforts, awareness and support must start in the community, with local agencies (including LHDs), the food industry, and residents working together. National Food Safety Education Month is a great time to get started!