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Food Safety Bill is Good for Public Health and Local Health Departments


 

Contact: Becky Wexler
Burness Communications
301-652-1558
bwexler@burnesscommunications.com

 
Food Safety Bill is Good for Public Health and Local Health Departments
NACCHO Applauds Senate for Passing FDA Food Safety Modernization Act

Washington, DC (November 30, 2010)—The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) was heartened by today’s Senate vote to pass the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510), advancing critical reforms that will strengthen an integrated food safety system of public health agencies, including local health departments, that are responsible for safeguarding the nation’s food supply through inspections, investigations, and control of food borne illness outbreaks.

Local health departments help to prevent and control food borne illness and the high costs associated with it. They are responsible for food inspections in restaurants, grocery stores, day care centers, hospitals, and schools. When a new restaurant opens, local health departments train employees on safe food handling practices, and most also educate people in the community about how to handle food safely to avoid getting sick. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that food borne illness in the United States causes 76 million cases of illnesses, over 325,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths annually. Hospitalizations due to food borne illnesses are estimated to cost more than $3 billion and lost productivity is estimated to cost between $20 and $40 billion each year.  An improved and adequately funded national food safety system will reduce the preventable human and economic costs of food borne illness.

“The nation’s local governmental health departments are on the front lines of food safety, with key roles in both prevention and response,” said NACCHO Executive Director Robert M. Pestronk. “Once this bill is signed into law, it will support and improve coordination between local health departments and their state and federal partners, which will ultimately result in better strategies to prevent and control food borne illness. This is a necessary—but not sufficient—step toward addressing the impacts of budget cuts and job losses on core local health department services, including those that help keep food and the public safe.”

Earlier this month, millions of viewers watched as a segment on NBC’s The Today Show illustrated the effects of this budget crunch on our communities. “Health departments don’t have the money to conduct [mall food court] inspections more than once a year,” said reporter Jeff Rossen, amplifying the alarm that NACCHO and its public health partners have sounded about the mounting toll of public health workforce losses over the past two years. A NACCHO survey released in May 2010 showed that job losses are diminishing local health departments’ capacity to conduct routine operations like restaurant inspection and jeopardizing their ability to respond to emergencies and emerging threats—including threats of food borne illness.

“Despite these constraints, many of our members have discovered innovative ways to educate their communities about food safety and use limited resources to their advantage,” said Pestronk. For example, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department in Nebraska recently worked with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to create an interactive online food handler training, testing and permitting program that freed up staff time to focus on new approaches to increasing food safety, including enhanced follow-up on establishments with higher risk “critical” violations.

About the National Association of County and City Health Officials
The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation's 2,800 local governmental health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities.

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