The United States Department of Agriculture reported that Americans spent about 25% of their food budgets on eating away from home in 1970.  Today, dining out has become the norm—with more than 50% of food budgets spent on food from restaurants.  Over 2,300 food service establishments operate within the Cobb & Douglas health district and that number is steadily increasing. The greater the number of food service establishments increases the potential for foodborne illnesses occurring in the event that food safety controls are not in place.

To help ensure that our district operates at a high level in regards to food safety, Cobb & Douglas Public Health is enrolled in the Food and Drug Administration’s Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards.  To help evaluate how well the top risk factors (or contributors) to foodborne illness were being controlled in our food establishments, our Center for Environmental Health conducted a Risk Factor Study of the district’s food service facilities from March 2017 – April 2018.

The purpose of the study was to provide a baseline for measuring the success of the CDPH Food Program in reducing the occurrence of foodborne illness risk factors throughout the Cobb and Douglas health district.  For the baseline survey, about 290 food service establishments [consisting of full service, fast food, care facilities and a hospital] were evaluated.  They were randomly selected for assessment regarding specific risk factors determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC risk factors that were evaluated were the following: food from unsafe sources; inadequate cooking; improper holding/time and temperature; contaminated equipment/prevention of contamination; and poor personal hygiene, in addition to employee health.

As shown above, t­he risk factors with the highest percentage of non-compliance for the facilities assessed were improper holding, followed by cleaned & sanitized equipment, and the third was poor personal hygiene practices.  After analyzing the results, the district decided to implement intervention strategies to help improve each of these areas. Another Risk Factor Study will be repeated in five years to assess progress and identify any other areas needing improvement.  Please stay tuned.