HENDRICKS COUNTY, IN – Food safety is a top priority for public health officials at the Hendricks County Health Department, and they want to remind residents how to prevent foodborne illness at home during National Food Safety Education Month.
“Our staff works daily to prevent foodborne illness and make sure the food served to the public is safe to eat,” says Julie Haan, Director of Environmental Health at the Hendricks County Health Department. “We have four full-time Environmental Health Specialists and one Team Lead who conduct food establishment inspections at all places in Hendricks County that serve food to the public, like restaurants, gas stations, and food trucks.”
When conducting an inspection, staff looks for a wide variety of possible issues that can make food less safe or healthy to eat.
“Our staff follows the Indiana Food Code, which outlines what food establishments should and should not be doing to keep food safe,” explains Lisa Chandler, Food Protection Program Team Lead with the Hendricks County Health Department. “The code covers things like making sure food handlers wash their hands and have access to hand washing stations, food is cooked or chilled to the right temperatures, and kitchen surfaces and utensils are cleaned and sanitized.”
Chandler says that staff inspects food establishments periodically and write reports with information about the types of food code violations found within the establishments during inspections. Staff then works with establishments’ owners and managers to correct violations immediately. If they cannot be corrected immediately, staff gives establishments a time frame to fix the violation and conducts a re-inspection to make sure the violation has been corrected.
Food inspection reports are made available for the public to view 10 days after inspection. Reports are available on the Hendricks County Government’s website, www.co.hendricks.in.us.
In addition to conducting routine inspections, the Health Department is working to improve their food protection program to better prevent foodborne illness outbreaks.
“We are striving to achieve the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards, which are designed to help us identify weak areas in our program and provide guidance on strengthening those areas,” says Chandler. “Additionally, we are working with the Indiana Public Health Training Center on a new educational program that will help us reduce some of the language barrier issues we have with food establishment owners, managers, and employees when conducting inspections and providing education on violations and corrective action.”
In addition to ensuring food safety at public food establishments, the Health Department encourages residents to take steps to prevent foodborne illness at home:
- Clean – Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you start preparing food, after using the restroom, after sneezing or coughing, and when changing between raw meats and ready-to-eat foods. Wash preparation and cooking surfaces, utensils, and cutting boards before using them. Wash fruits and vegetables before cooking.
- Separate – Use separate cutting boards for meats and produce. Keep meat and eggs separate from all other foods when shopping at the grocery store. Store meats and eggs away from and below ready-to-eat foods, including leftovers, in the refrigerator.
- Cook – Use a food thermometer to know when food is cooked properly, to keep hot foods hot, and to avoid the temperature “Danger Zone” (42˚ F – 139˚ F). Microwave food to at least 165˚ F.
- Chill – Refrigerate foods within two hours of serving. Never thaw or marinate foods on the counter or at room temperature. Know when to throw food away after refrigerating or freezing it.
For additional information about preventing foodborne illness at home, visit www.foodsafety.gov.
For more information about the Health Department’s Food Protection Program or how to prevent foodborne illness at home, contact the Hendricks County Health Department Environmental Health Division at (317) 745-9217.