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041311 TraditionalFoodActEditorial
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Editorial: Traditional Food Act is dangerous

Originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on April 7, 2011.

"They don't want their wedding to be remembered that way." -- Doug Ness, a Bismarck, N.D., man who suffered eight days of chills, fever and diarrhea after getting sick at a friend's nuptials.

We can't wait to report similar news stories here in the WTE as people get sick at local weddings or nonprofit events. To regale our readers with headlines and stories of vomiting and diarrhea due to local people eating uninspected food items.

Not.

But that will be the result of the Legislature's recent passage of House Bill 8, the Wyoming Traditional Food Act. It strips all regulations, including inspections, from "traditional activities" like weddings or picnics and from events that sell food to raise money for nonprofits.

In other words, the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department no longer has the power to inspect cooking processes or food from such events. Nor will it be able to require that cooks get training in proper temperatures for cooking and storage and for hand washing and cleanup. It has to stand by as people eat foods that they assume were prepared properly when they were not.

This is conservative politics run amok. In the name of the "right to choose," lawmakers now have exposed the people of Cheyenne to increased chances of foodborne illness and perhaps even death. Won't that do this city's image good for the world to hear that dozens got sick at a chili cook-off?

We urge two courses of action in response to this foolishness:

-City-County Health must lobby -- and lobby hard -- with nonprofits, home caterers and others to get voluntary training and to submit to inspections. No doubt, it was easier when this was required by law. But these cooks and groups must be made to understand that they are jeopardizing not only their reputations but the reputation of this city.

-The city of Cheyenne must push for its "home rule" right to require these food safety processes on any events that occur within city limits. No doubt, this may drive some of these happenings outside of Cheyenne. But those who would do that are sending a message: They do not care whether the food they peddle is safe or not.

Health department head Gus Lopez says there is a legal question about whether the city can do that. We urge the mayor, city attorney and City Council to stand by their rights as a "home rule" community, even if that means they have to defend their position on food safety in court. The welfare of both residents and visitors, as well as this community's image, ride on the action.

For our part, we will include -- in all news items on major public events where food is served -- information on whether the group has submitted to inspections or whether it is using the Traditional Food Act to dodge such requirements. At least that way, when people get sick at an event we publicize, they will not be able to blame us. They can blame the Legislature for this foolishness instead.

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Wyoming Retail Association (WRA)
P.O. Box 1003, Cheyenne, WY 82003  Phone: (307) 634-8816, Fax (307) 632-0249