Environmental Health Specialist-Network (EHS-Net) Program
To provide a collaborative forum of environmental health specialists that researches restaurant food safety policies and practices.
Recognizing the important role environmental health programs play in retail food safety, CDC created EHS-Net (pronounced S-Net) in 2000. EHS-Net is a collaborative forum of environmental health specialists that researches restaurant food safety policies and practices. EHS-Net links environmental health specialists from state and local agencies with federal partners, including CDC, the Food and Drug Administration (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rhode Island has been funded by CDC EHS-Net since 2005. For the current grant cycle (2020-2025), CDC funds four states and four local health departments.
EHS-Net successes include strengthening provisions in the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code. These provisions help reduce norovirus and other causes of foodborne illness and outbreaks in restaurants and other retail food establishments.
What we do
Research restaurant food safety policies and practices to help understand the environmental causes of foodborne illness and outbreaks.
Translate research findings into recommended food safety prevention practices, policies, and training using a systems-based approach.
Strengthen collaboration among epidemiology, laboratory, and environmental health programs during foodborne illness outbreak investigations.
Conduct environmental assessments and participate in the National Environmental Assessment Reporting System (NEARS).
Rhode Island’s EHS-Net funded research found that Rhode Island—the only northeastern state at the time that prohibited selling undercooked ground meat to children—had lower E. coli illness rates than other northeastern states. These findings influenced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prohibit the sale of undercooked ground meat in children’s menu items in the agency’s Food Code (Section 3-401.11(D)(2)). Jurisdictions can use the Food Code as a model for their own food codes to improve restaurant food safety.
Rhode Island’s environmental assessment of a Salmonella outbreak in 2010 led to the discovery that improperly designed slicers contributed to the outbreak. The slicers could not be properly cleaned, which created harborage sites for the bacteria. In response to this outbreak, Rhode Island’s EHS-Net program worked with NSF International to create new slicer standards that went into effect in November 2012 and also worked with FDA to create educational materials about these standards.
Rhode Island visited 50 restaurants in the state to assess restaurants’ progress in meeting the requirements of the state’s 2013 allergy awareness law. They found that most of the study restaurants were not meeting the requirement to have a food allergen information poster in the kitchen. To address this gap, Rhode Island staff developed food allergen posters on what to know and how to respond to reactions and distributed them to high-risk restaurants.
Rhode Island reviewed its foodborne illness complaint system and found that it identified most of the outbreaks investigated in the state and detected illnesses in a timely manner, likely contributing to the prevention of further illnesses. These findings provide evidence of the vital role complaint systems play in the detection and prevention of foodborne illness outbreaks.