Food Safety


The quality and safety of food and drink (except water) that humans consume (1).

It is estimated that every year one in six Americans have contracted some type of foodborne illness and over 3,000 die from eating contaminated food — highlighting the importance of food safety to public health (2). Most foodborne illness is caused by eating food contaminated with disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses or parasites. Additionally, harmful toxins or chemicals can contaminate foods. Common symptoms of foodborne diseases are nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea. Depending on the source of contamination, symptoms can appear in as little as a few minutes to several weeks (3).

Thousands of different types of microorganisms are found throughout the environment and can be present on common food items we buy from the grocery store, such as raw meat and fresh produce. Not all bacteria cause illness and many are beneficial to humans, such as in probiotics that help with digestion or in the production of cheese and other dairy products. Microorganisms that cause disease are called pathogens, and foods can become cross-contaminated with pathogens when in contact with raw animal protein and their juices, other contaminated products or from food handlers (3).

Anyone can get a foodborne illness, but groups at a higher risk include those with weakened or compromised immune systems, infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and older adults (3). Current challenges in food safety include more imported foods coming into the country, growing antibiotic resistance, new bacteria, emerging toxins, growing number of multistate outbreaks and unexpected or unknown sources of foodborne illness (4,5).

Foodborne illness is entirely preventable if the right steps in food handling, cooking and storage are followed. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends four steps to keep yourself and your families safe:

• Clean — Wash hands and surfaces often.
• Separate — Don’t cross-contaminate.
• Cook — Cook to the right temperature.
• Chill — Refrigerate promptly (6).

The USDA estimates that foodborne illness costs the U.S. around $15.6 billion each year for medical bills and lost economic productivity (7).

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service maintains a comprehensive list of the 10 most common bacteria responsible for foodborne illness along with the foods they are found in, most common signs and symptoms and ways to prevent contamination and transmission at Foodborne Illness: What Consumers Need to Know

CDC National Outbreak Reporting System, Retrieved from:

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

No concerns or issues with food safety were reported by participants.

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Interview Findings

Concerns with food safety were limited to one informant who expressed the need for ensuring access to healthy, safe, and affordable foods for all residents.

Food-borne Illness

The charts below show the incidence of selected food-borne illnesses that were reported in Jefferson County and Colorado between 2005-2016.  Depending on the year and the presence of outbreaks, Jefferson County rates vary between being below or above the Colorado rates overall.

Jefferson County Public Health's Environmental Health Services division conducts thousands of inspections of restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks, school cafeterias and other retail food operations each year to ensure compliance with proper food handling techniques. Violations are classified as critical and non-critical. Critical violations prompt follow-up inspections with the facility. Critical violations include:

• Food source
• Personnel, employee health and        
   hygienic practices
• Food temperature control
• Handwashing facilities
• Sanitization
• Water, sewage, plumbing systems
• Pest control
• Poisonous or toxic items

Jefferson County Public Health's Retail Food Establishment Inspection Activities (2017)

Source: Jefferson County Public Health


Reference List

1. New South Wales Department of Health. (2010, December). Public Health Classifications Project: Determinants of Health. Retrieved from:

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018, February 7). Food Safety. Retrieved from:

3. United States Department of Agriculture. (2013, August 7). Foodborne illness: What consumers need to know. Retrieved from:

4. Uyttendaele, M., De Boeck, E., Jacxsens, L. (2016). Challenges in food safety as part of food security: lessons learnt on food safety in a globalized world. Procedia Food Science, 6: 16-22. Retrieved from:

5. Kase, J., Zhang, G., Chen, Y. (2017, November). Recent foodborne outbreaks in the United States linked to atypical vehicles- lessons learned. Current Opinion in Food Science, 18:56-63. Retrieved from:

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018. April 19). Food Safety Tips. Retrieved from:

7. Flynn, Dan (2014, October). USDA: US Foodborne Illnesses Cost More Than $15.6 billion Annually. Retrieved from: 


Data Sources

CDC National Outbreak Reporting System, Retrieved from:

CDPHE, CEDRS: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Colorado Electronic Disease Reporting System:

Published on July 17, 2018

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