About Environmental Health Services

Strong environmental health programs understand the public health needs of their communities and meet those needs with effective solutions. The Water, Food, and Environmental Health Services Branch provides practice-based research, training, tools, and guidance for environmental health professionals. Watch our video about Why Environmental Health Services Are So Important.

The branch focuses on four major areas:

  • Safe water
  • Food safety
  • Environmental health practice
  • Vessel sanitation program

Safe Water

Faucet with a water drop graphic.

Water is both a basic need and a source of recreational enjoyment. Ensuring safe drinking and recreational water is important because

  • About 1 in 8 Americans get their drinking water from a private well. About 1 in 5 sampled private wells were found to be contaminated at levels that could affect health.
  • Legionella bacteria causes more than half of waterborne disease outbreaks. CDC investigations show almost all (9 in 10) Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks were caused by problems preventable with more effective water management.
  • A recent study found that about 1 in 8 public pool inspections and 1 in 7 of public hot tub/spa inspections resulted in immediate closure because of at least one identified violation that represented a serious threat to public health.

Food Safety

Graphic image of a happy chef.

Foodborne illness is a significant problem in the United States. CDC studies have found that

  • More than half of all foodborne outbreaks in the United States are associated with restaurants, delis, banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions.
  • Bare hand contact by a food worker is a contributing factor in about 1 of 4 restaurant-related outbreaks.
  • Restaurants with certified managers were less likely to be linked with outbreaks, were more likely to comply with FDA Food Code regulations, and had better food safety practices.

Environmental Health Practice

EH Uncover magnifying glass.

Environmental health practice is critical to the public health delivery system because environmental health professionals are strategically positioned to assess, control, and prevent emerging threats. Building a stronger environmental health practice is important because

  • Environmental health professionals commonly work in multiple program areas, requiring unique technical and scientific expertise.
  • Environmental health professionals can leverage data to increase the impact of their services and inform best practices.
  • About 1 in 4 environmental health professionals plans to retire within 5 years, presenting recruitment and workforce development needs.

Vessel Sanitation Program

Graphic image of a cruise ship

The Vessel Sanitation Program applies environmental health principles to help the cruise ship industry prevent and control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships by

  • Conducting periodic, unannounced operational sanitation inspections.
  • Monitoring gastrointestinal illnesses and investigating outbreaks.

The Water, Food, and Environmental Health Services Branch is part of the National Center for Environmental Health’s Division of Environmental Health Science and Practice.