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