TMA Comments on HB 3387: Food Safety

To: Chair Jane Nelson and Members
Senate Health and Human Services Committee

Date: May 17, 2011

Re: Committee Substitute for House Bill 3387 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Sen. Jane Nelson — Relating to the regulation of food prepared, stored, distributed, or sold at farmers’ markets

The Texas Medical Association (TMA) and the Texas Association of Local Health Officials (TALHO) join many of our public health colleagues in supporting the committee substitute for House Bill 3387. While we had concerns about certain provisions in HB 3387 as filed, we are pleased to see that the substitute bill incorporates some of our state’s important, time-tested food safety principles for public health.

Food safety is one of the greatest achievements in public health. Thanks to decades of partnering among public health officials, food producers, food handlers, and food markets, Texans have affordable, high-quality food. A Texan’s chance of exposure to a foodborne bacterium or toxin that can make him or her sick is rare. The legislation as substituted includes important public health protections at farmers’ markets — which are becoming more popular in local communities — including a definition of farmers’ markets, and applying consistent definitions and regulations to food handling.

Defining a farmers’ market as a temporary food establishment allows the state or local health department to issue it a temporary food establishment permit. With this come important training and education to help prevent foodborne illness. The permit also helps public health officials conduct a time-critical investigation after a foodborne illness occurs, by tracking potential epidemiologic links between a food vendor and the illness. We also support requiring people who sell and demonstrate their products at farmers’ markets to have a food handler’s permit. This is critical. A food handler at a farmers’ market is no different from a cook or waitress in a restaurant. We need to ensure any person who handles food has completed a basic food-safety and food-handler training course.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year, one out of six Americans gets sick from a foodborne illness. Most of these 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. Any of the multiple factors in an unregulated, unprotected food market can cause contaminated food and serious illness: contaminated equipment, lack of water for hand washing, improper temperature, or unsafe food handling. This is especially true in farmers’ markets, which are held outdoors, where temperatures, wind, rain, and other weather conditions are not easily controlled.

TMA recognizes the growing popularity of farmers’ markets and the desire of Texans to buy fresh, organic products. This interest is motivated in part by health reasons that Texas physicians support. We want our patients to shop and eat with their health in mind. But we also want our patients to rest assured that farmers’ markets have to meet the same standards as other food wholesalers. We believe applying the same basic public health protections to the growing number of markets will lead to a healthier community that is better informed on how to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The health of the public must be a top priority. We believe the substitute bill for HB 3387 is a workable compromise that addresses local interest to support farmers’ markets, while building on some of the core requirements in place for temporary food establishments and food safety. We encourage your support for CSHB 3387.

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