Do you stop to think about all of the possible food borne illnesses you could get when you go out to eat?  Probably not. Most of us don’t and if you did, going out to eat wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

Salmonella, clostridium perfringens, campylobacter, listeria, botulism and staphlylococcus don’t tend to make very good dining partners.  Health inspections conducted by San Juan Basin Public Health (SJBPH) are an important part of ensuring that the food you purchase in a restaurant or grocery store won’t make you sick.  But, what exactly do our health inspectors look for?

SJBPH’s Retail Food program is conducted under State of Colorado regulations that govern food safety in businesses serving food to the public – like restaurants, food trucks, grocery stores, and convenience stores.  SJBPH inspects these establishments in La Plata, Archuleta and San Juan counties.  Inspections are unannounced, so restaurants don’t know ahead of time when they will get an inspection.  This gives the inspector a sense of what the operations look like “when no one is looking.”  Some of the things they look for in an inspection are:

  • Is food being kept at the right temperature? In other words, keeping hot food hot and cold food cold.
  • Does the food come from an approved source? For example, serving jam that was made at home would not be considered an approved source.
  • Is food being cooked to the proper temperature?
  • Are there opportunities for cross-contamination of food? For example, is lettuce being cut on a cutting board after raw chicken was cut?
  • Do food handlers wash their hands in between different tasks? For example, are they handling money before they handle food without washing their hands?
  • Do food handlers touch ready-to-eat food with their bare hands? This includes bartenders and servers who put a lemon on your glass of iced tea.
  • Is there a manager on duty that is knowledgeable in food safety principles?
  • Does the establishment’s sick policy prohibit workers from coming to work with gastro-intestinal symptoms (like diarrhea, fever, vomiting)?

The purpose of the inspection is to identify and correct any practices that can be linked to food-borne illnesses. SJBPH staff have been through intensive Food and Drug Administration training in food safety and food-borne illness and can provide technical expertise for those in the food service industry.  SJBPH considers the retail food program to be a partnership between the inspector, the state, and the business – all working towards the same goal of protecting public health.  After all, food-related business owners don’t want you getting sick either.

Results of inspections are available to the public on our website sjbpublichealth.org/foodsafety.  It is important to note that the inspections are merely a snapshot in time and the number of violations noted does not necessarily mean that the establishment is “bad.”  Most violation are corrected immediately and don’t require a follow-up inspection.

SJBPH is committed to providing trainings to the food service industry to increase food safety knowledge.  The agency provides classes in English and Spanish on the basics of food safety, workshops on American’s with Disabilities Act law for restauranteurs, skills classes that explain proper cooking and holding temperatures and cooling methods, and training specific to food trucks.  We are proud to partner with Manna Soup Kitchen’s Cooking Matters program by providing education to the participants in their classes.

Food safety is a key component of public health and is one of the many ways SJBPH plays a role in helping individuals reach their highest potential for health.

To find out more about the retail food program, please visit our website at sjbpublichealth.org/foodsafety, send us an email at EH@sjbpublichealth.org or give us a call at 970-335-2052.

Sherri Dugdale is the Environmental Public Health Division Director at San Juan Basin Public Health