News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 19, 2013

EDITORIAL: Addressing loopholes in food safety

Oversight needed, but don’t go overboard

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Among the popular features in your daily Tribune-Star is a listing, published every Monday, of recent restaurant inspections. Going out to eat, or merely grabbing a quick bite for lunch or when you’re out and about, is a universal act of nourishment. Food service is a big and thriving business, which is evident in the proliferation of food establishments.

We all keep an eye on the restaurant inspections because we are, on some level, concerned about what we consume. Knowing that the local board of health is rigorously inspecting the food establishments we patronize gives us more confidence that the food or drinks we purchase won’t make us sick.

But what about food we encounter in public places that is not prepared or served by a regulated commercial establishment? There are no state regulations governing nonprofit food tents at festivals or church potlucks. Did you know that? Does it concern you? It should.

Certainly people need to be aware that there are risks associated with consuming food that’s not prepared or handled under strict guidelines. In fact, it’s a serious issue under review by state health officials.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2011, there were more than 5 million people hospitalized, and 149 deaths, due to the norovirus. Another 19,336 were hospitalized due to salmonella poisoning, which claimed 378 lives.

CNHI statehouse reporter Maureen Hayden wrote this week that state and federal officials have been working to reduce easily transmitted food-borne illnesses linked to unsafe food practices.

In Indiana, a legislative study committee is tackling the issue in order to address the safety risk posed by volunteer community events without inadvertently regulating them out of existence.

We agree that the same level of regulation required of commercial food establishments need not be mandated for groups or organizations serving food to the public. But some degree of oversight makes sense, and it should begin with higher levels of awareness by consumers as well as food preparers and servers.

Consumers caring for young children or elderly adults who might be more susceptible to an outbreak of food-borne illnesses need to exercise a greater degree of responsibility and caution.

But some steps can be taken to make food safer. Volunteers involved in preparing or serving food at nonprofit events should be properly supervised to help prevent inadvertent transmission of dangerous illnesses.

Such an incremental approach allows progress to be made toward reducing the risk without unnecessarily damaging the ability of organizations to conduct valuable community or church activities.

No matter the venue, food safety is serious business and should be treated as such.