Food Safety


The food safety system takes into account producing, transporting, storing, preparing, and eating of food. Contamination may occur at any stage and result in one or more people becoming infected with a food-borne illness/disease [1]. When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a food-borne outbreak. Public health officials investigate outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak, and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future [2]. 

The DC Healthy People 2020 goal related to food safety is:

1. Food safety and hygiene are improved to reduce and limit the spread of food-borne illnesses.

Food-borne diseases affect tens of millions of people and kill thousands. One in six Americans will get sick from food poisoning this year. Most of them will recover without any lasting effects from their illness [2]. For some, however, the effects can be devastating and even deadly. Each year 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases [3].

Tracking single cases of food-borne illness and investigating outbreaks are critical public health functions in which CDC and DC Health are deeply involved. The Epidemiological Division of the DC Health tracks food-related diseases in the District [2].

Nationally, those experiencing most food-borne illnesses are children younger than four years of age and people older than 50 years of age. However, this is not the case in the District of Columbia [1].

Data show that DC residents most affected by food-borne illnesses are between the ages of 25-64 [1].  In 2017, residents in Ward 6 experienced the most reported cases of food-related illness in the District [4].

Food-borne diseases result in increased hospitalizations, days lost from work, and can have serious complications in the very old, very young, and people with compromised immune systems.

If not responded to quickly, food-borne illness outbreaks can affect large groups of people, especially in urban areas like the District where populations are denser.

For this reason, food safety inspectors and investigators are included in emergency preparedness and response activities.

Researchers have identified over 250 reportable food-borne diseases and 31 known pathogens that cause them, of which the top four reported are Campylobacter, Giardia, Salmonella and Shigella [3]. Outbreaks don’t always have patterns, but it is important to monitor reports of food-borne illness closely to catch any outbreak at the onset and be able to intervene to prevent the spread.

With the explosion of the food service industry in DC, we have been challenged to keep the work force capacity on pace with the growth of new food establishments. The Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division at DC Health inspects approximately 7,500 food and hygiene establishments in the District of Columbia [5]. Food establishments include delicatessens, bakeries, grocery stores, retail marine markets, ice cream manufacturers, restaurants, wholesale markets, mobile food vendors, hotels and cottage food businesses.

The Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division also inspects the city’s swimming pools, splash pads, and cosmetology establishments, which include nail and braiding salons, and barber shops, and works with the Tobacco Control Program to ensure smoke-free food establishments. The District is working to hire additional sanitarians to keep up with preventive safety inspections and compliance.

Assets and Resources

Community Resources

• Food Safety & Defense Conference

• DC Health Food Safety  Guidance Documents    

• Food Establishments  

• Mobile Food Vending 

• Pools, Spas and Splash Pads   

• Hygiene Establishments (Barber, Beauty, Nails) 

• Cottage Food Businesses 

• Closures and Restorations

• Special Events 

• Shared Kitchen / Food Manufacturers

• File a Complaint (or send an email to

• Food signs and fact sheets

• Restaurant food service permitting & licensing guide

• Understanding food establishment inspections

• Restaurant Association of Metro Washington training opportunities

Promising Practices & Policies

• Continue expansion of streamlined food establishment inspections that focus on key food-related observations.


• Implement quality improvement initiatives to improve food establishment inspection efficiencies, target at-risk establishments and create expedited inspections for high performing establishments.

Citations & Additional Data Resources

1. DC Healthy People 2020. Food Safety

2. DC Health. Food Safety Information

3. CDC. Burden of Foodborne Illness. 2018

4. DC Health. Center for Policy, Planning and Evaluation, Division of Epidemiology, Disease Surveillance and Investigation. 2018

5. DC Health. Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division

Photo Credit:

Photo by Ali Inay on Unsplash

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