Food safety has risen to a mainstream issue in the last few years. The reasons behind the rising interest of the public have to do with increasing risks. These risks have resulted in numerous contaminated products, hunderds of large recalls, billions in losses, hunderds of millions in lawsuits and thousands of illness and deaths. How is it possible that our fourth largest state, Florida, would remove public health protection from some of its most vulnerable populations at a time like this? Our public health agencies and the protections they offer to "at risk populations" are without political support and governmental decisions can be easily influenced by money and political power; those are the only logical answers.

Florida has a long history of attacking public health protections. In 1992, the last year health inspectors completed the required inspections in food service operations, the powerful Florida Restaurant Association successfully moved the restaurant inspection program from the then HRS Office of Restaurant Programs to the then Department of Business Regulation, a licensing agency- not a public health agency. This shift also triggered massive realignments of agency responsibilities, transfers of hundreds of positions, and the disorganizing of what was at that time a well run and efficient  inspection operation. The problems continued to plague DBR from thence forth, and the situation was made worse through another reorganization that created the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and yet another reorganization that took place saw Florida’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants lose 20 key field positions.

Now we see a similar effort by lobbies to remove public health inspectors from institutions such as childcare centers, hospitals and nursing homes and give the licensing authority the responsibility for public health protection. History is repeating itself and the consequences will come. The situation with foodborne illness outbreaks in Institutions has been remarkably lower than in restaurants. Only about 10% of the food borne illness outbreaks investigated by the health department (yes they would still be responsible for that) are attributed to institutional food service.

Florida holds the number one ranking in foodborne illness reported in the nation. Some of this has to be looked at in terms of the remaining Department of Health DOH environmental epidemiologists in the field and their excellent work uncovering outbreaks, but the fact is the numbers are too high. We do not want to repeat these mistakes, but we here in Florida are all too familiar with Tallahassee’s good ol’ boy backroom politics and the tactics of industry lobbies.

Its a shame our government lets the people down time and again in favor of special business interests, but this latest attack on public health protection and the safety of food for kids, old folks and those already ill is a new low for Florida.

Please see the following article for more information.

FLORIDA: New law removes health inspectors
Tampa Bay Online
Carl Orth