Food safety during the holiday season

Our regional restaurant offerings are notable considering the area’s distance from city hubs and the isolation we face from hindered travel in the winter. Breaking bread with loved ones and befriending bellied-up visitors at one of these eateries is a big part of the local holiday spirit. There to ensure the foods we share are safe is San Juan Basin Health’s Environmental Health (EH) division.

Environmental Health is a multifaceted service in Archuleta and La Plata counties. One of its major programs is Consumer Protection – protecting the public from foodborne illness with risk-based restaurant inspections, as well as license retail food establishments.

Grilled chicken and meat thermometerMany people do not think about food safety until a food-related illness affects them or a family member. While the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates roughly 48 million people get sick, more than 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne illness. Preventing foodborne illness and death remains a major public health challenge and is noted as a CDC Winnable Battle.

Restaurant inspections determine risk for foodborne illnesses through food handling practices during phases of food production or food preparation such as cooking temperature, cooling or refrigeration, hot and cold holding, cross-contamination, and hand washing by food handlers.

San Juan Basin Health and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment have been working with the food service industry regarding increased licensing fees for retail food establishments to better provide funding to cover services. As a result of this work, House Bill 1401 was passed by the Legislature. In this bill, there is a graduated increase in license fees that will be implemented state-wide, phased in over three years.

Every establishment will see a 30 percent increase for 2017 license renewals, and an additional 10 percent increase for 2018 and 2019 annual renewals. The most typical license category is a restaurant with 0-100 seats, with a current license fee of $255.00. This fee category will increase to $330.00 for the 2017 license renewals. This same fee increase will also apply to mobile units that prepare and serve food (full service).

Food safety and proper restaurant licensing are two of many services our Environmental Health program provides to the region. It is an especially wonderful time of year to share in the joy of meals with friends and family and EH is committed to ensuring foods are safe and restaurants remain licensed for operation.

If you have reason to believe that you acquired an illness from food at a restaurant or other commercial food source, call 970-335-2052. The staff will collect information from you to try to determine what type of illness you may have, where you may have acquired it, and from what type of food. They may inspect a facility which is suspected to have caused illness.

More information about the EH Consumer Protection program, such as the retail food license application or inspection results, can be found online. Our Environmental Health Specialists can also be reached at 970-335-2052.