Panel concerned about food safety

2010-01-21T00:00:00Z Panel concerned about food safetyJOAN BARRON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
January 21, 2010 12:00 am  • 

CHEYENNE  — Members of the Governor’s Council on Food Safety will be sending letters to Gov. Dave Freudenthal and legislators cautioning against any expansion of the cottage food exemption.

The motion they adopted unanimously also calls for a broad educational program about the need for food safety “in all settings.”

This will be the third legislative session the council has addressed problems raised in bills sponsored by Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse.

The first year the bill to exempt so-called cottage foods — those prepared in home kitchens — from regulation failed to get through the Legislature.

Last year a modified version did pass. As of July 1 it allows sales of home-produced foods such as jams, cookies and bread at farmers markets and roadside stands without inspection or licensing.

Wallis plans to introduce a bill for the budget session that opens Feb. 8 to expand the cottage food exemption.

Although they have not seen the bill, the council members said they expect it to be the same as the original bills introduced by Wallis before they were modified.

“It would make it wide open,” said the council’s chairman, Robert Harrington, director of the Casper-Natrona County Health Department.

Wallis has said regulation of cottage food businesses is not needed and her bill will not make food less safe. Wallis could not be reached for additional comment Wednesday afternoon.

Council members pointed out that outbreaks continue to occur and some illnesses last more than a day or two.

Dr. Tracy Murphy, state epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health, said some people afflicted with E. coli from contaminated food can end up on long-term dialysis.

“There are plenty of documented outbreaks,” Murphy said.

Gus Lopez, director of the Laramie County Health Department, said that 30 of 60 people who attended a home Christmas party last month became ill with vomiting and diarrhea. Some who did not recover quickly contacted the health department.

The cause was found to be the meat from eight or nine turkeys that had been thawed the night before at room temperature.

“Seriously, people, it’s out there,” Lopez said. “That’s what we’re up against.”

He said his department receives two to three complaints per month of individual cases of food-borne illness.

Robert Harrington said Wyoming’s food safety law was a model for other states when it was adopted 10 years ago. It would be a shame to erode it now given that food-caused illness still is a problem in the state, he said.

Murphy said he believes most consumers understand the dangers of contaminated food.

“But they need to be aware of what’s being proposed and how it might impact them and their kids,” Murphy said.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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