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September is Food Safety Month

September 1, 2015

Food safety practices contribute to Pierce County’s low level of foodborne illness outbreaks

Unsafe food leads to more than 200 types of diseases. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department works with local food vendors to promote food safety practices that prevent foodborne illness—so local dining can be safe and enjoyable.

TACOMA, Wash. –
It’s National Food Safety Month, and here in Pierce County, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department works with many businesses and residents to ensure that your food is safe to eat.

“When you go out to eat, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting sick,” said Rachel Knight, program manager, Food and Community Safety. “We work with food establishments to ensure that they are permitted and they know how to properly and safely prepare, handle and serve food,” she said.

You can’t always see or sniff out food safety hazards
Food safety hazards can be invisible and odorless. That’s why food safety regulations and local food safety programs are so important. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every person will experience norovirus—a foodborne illness—five times in his or her life. Locally, in 2014, the Health Department received 390 notifications from people who became ill from food.

The Health Department attributes this relatively low level of reported foodborne illnesses to some higher numbers. Last year:
  • 36,916 Pierce County food workers learned about safe food handling practices via the Health Department’s online food worker card program.
  • 5,454 food providers, including schools and temporary events, obtained food permits.
  • 12,513 inspections helped to identify any potential food safety hazards at restaurants, farmers’ markets, schools, events and more.
“Even one person getting ill from food is too many. We want to hear from residents and visitors every time they think they have gotten sick from eating out,” said Knight.

The main causes of foodborne illnesses include:
  • Food from unsafe or unpermitted sources.
  • Undercooking raw meat, eggs, fish and shellfish.
  • Not keeping cold food cold or hot food hot.
  • Dirty equipment.
  • Not washing hands with soap and hot water.
  • Working when sick.

When dining out:

  • Look for the Health Department operating permit posted in the establishment or for the decal on the food truck.
  • When ordering food from a caterer or food vendor, ask if they have a Health Department permit.
  • If you see a food worker touching your food with bare hands tell the manager.
  • If you see a food worker leave the bathroom without washing his or her hands tell the manager.

Selling food without a permit is unsafe and illegal
The Health Department wants the public to know it’s not safe to purchase food from people who are cooking in a non-commercial home kitchen and selling food through Facebook or barbequing in the backyard and selling it at a garage sale. And it’s not legal. But these are examples of a trend that threatens public health.

“Anyone who sells food to the public is required to have a permit, and a food worker card is not a permit,” said Knight. “The permit is the public’s assurance that the business is accountable to the Health Department to follow food safety regulations, receive inspections and their food workers know how to provide safe food. Without the food permit, the business is not selling food legally—and the public may not be safe,” she said.

Federal, state and local food safety regulations exist to create a best practices framework for our local food establishments and their employees—so that your dining experience can be worry free. When food establishments have the proper permit and ensure that food workers follow those rules, they support a strong public health safety net that limits the chance of illness.

Learn more about how to have good and safe dining experiences at Report foodborne illness to or (253) 798-4712.

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),

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