TMA Memo on Food Safety

 To: Chair Lois Kolkhorst and Members 
 House Public Health Committee   

 Date: April 20, 2011     

Re: House Bill 2084 by Kolkhorst — Relating to the regulation of small food production and sales operations, and House Bill 1139 by Rep. Rodriguez  — Relating to the regulation of cottage food products and cottage food production operations. 

 The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Association of Local Health Officials would like to express concern for some of the provisions in House Bill 2084 and House Bill 1139 related to the sale of cottage food products. We believe some of the provisions undermine local health authorities’ ability to monitor food safety in their community.  

 Food safety is recognized as one of the 10 greatest public health achievements in the last century. It is a cornerstone of state and local public health prevention in a community.  Ensuring our foods are safe depends on public and private efforts implementing public health principles and science. This includes having safe food products, a work force trained on basic food safety principles, and a strong public health network able to educate the public and monitor compliance.     

Prevention is the key to minimizing foodborne illness —and prevention has to take place BEFORE any consumer complaints have been filed.  We believe that anyone who prepares food products sold to the public should be required to complete basic food-safety and food-handler training. It is equally important for food businesses to undergo routine inspections by the local or state health department inspectors.       

While the occasional major food-related outbreaks are well publicized, the actual number of illnesses caused by food is much greater. One out of every six Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness each year, according to an estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Most cases go unreported, either because the person doesn’t see a doctor or there is no specific diagnosis. However, foodborne infections can cause serious illness and death. A person handling food can unintentionally spread many of the 200 different foodborne diseases.    

We need to allow our trained public health inspectors to monitor activities in their communities. Not knowing where foods are prepared will hamper our local health officials’ work to investigate the multiple products and facilities that a single foodborne illness outbreak can involve. Time is critical when investigating an outbreak — and a public health official must be able to establish epidemiologic links in a timely manner.  Circumventing this process is contrary to the efforts of the inspectors who know the food establishments in their community.  While inspection and food-handler education is included in HB 1139, it is not part of HB 2084.   

Many people believe that food produced in someone’s home will be healthier and good for small business development.  While we acknowledge that the requirements for small businesses can be confusing, the health of the public must be a priority. It does not serve the public interest to prohibit a local health authority from doing a job it knows how to do well.  This has worked for decades, and today, Texans can be assured that the food they consume has been prepared in a food establishment following the latest training in food handling and approved by its public health inspectors.       

New germs and toxins are identified each year, and we must have a trained workforce and public health officials working together to prevent foodborne illnesses. We believe the provisions related to cottage food production will undermine food safety and urge you help ensure the state’s public health system can protect all Texans. 

82nd Texas Legislature Testimonies 

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    Consumers know where they are getting their food when they purchase a food product from someone's home. In most cases they actually get to see the kitchen where the food is prepared. Who can do that in a commerical bakery/resturant? I agree that home-food producers should still complete basic food-safety and food-handler training. This can only improve and enhance the home-baker's knowledge and product and performance. However, I don't believe that the passing of this bill will undermine the state's public health system. This will help legalize what is already happening and ensure that more people are certified and informed.

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    This viewpoint on potential problems is ridiculous. I would say the goal of a small business home baker and the goals of your organization are exactly the same, public health is paramount. The last we want to see happen is someone getting sick from our foods...we all have worked too hard and too long, and invested too much money to have it all taken away from us in an instant by carelessness... If you think that people will be in harms way from baked goods prepared in a home kitchen, think again. How many children have eaten cupcakes or cookies prepared by moms for their child's birthday? How many people have purchased banana bread from a church bakesale? The only reason people get sick from eating these treats is because they eat too much because it is so good! This bill would only allow the non hazardous of foods to be made in a home kitchen. The rules proposed for home baking businesses are just as restrictive as that of restaurants. Having all home bakers take and pass health safety certification is a very good thing, we should all familiarize ourselves with proper food safety for the sake of our own families, but this is a added safeguard to allowing home bakers to make and sell products from their home. Inspections are unnecessary (having owned and operated a commercial bakery myself, I know inspectors wiz through because they know these products are not hazardous). This law will be self policing--when you meet the baker at his/her home to purchase your baked good, if you don't like the condition of the home or the kitchen, walk away...don't buy it...that's what freedom of choice is...

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    I have gotten food poisoning twice, and I agree it is a HORRIBLE thing, but both times were from well-respected restaurants. The first was from cheese-filled phyllo triangles at a Greek restaurant that had been sitting out too long (mine tasted weird, my mom's which obviously came from a different pan, tasted fine. I got sick and missed 2 days of school.) The second was from beans at a popular Houston Mexican restaurant. On the other hand, I have never gotten a food borne illness from a home baked good or a home-canned jar of pickles or preserves, nor do I know anyone who has gotten sick in that way.

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