Originally created 08/28/99

Food safety no issue

We've heard no public outcry that unprofessional handling by Georgia's food-service workers are endangering the health and safety of consumers. Nor have we heard a public clamor to force waiters, cooks and food managers to undergo special training.

State Sen. Steve Thompson, D-Powder Springs, thinks he has heard such a clamor, though, and he's submitting anti-competitive legislation to deal with it.

He told a Senate consumer affairs hearing in Atlanta that his bill would set minimum safety standards for food service businesses. To ensure the standards are met, Thompson would require employees to undergo several hours of food-service training before being issued a work certificate.

That sounds great to the untutored ear, but think about it. There's no food service crisis in Georgia. Incidents, yes; that's inevitable now and then. But a crisis? No way. There's not even a problem.

What Thompson's really doing is responding to the political clout of the big boys in the food service and restaurant industries. Through lobbyists, trade associations and the like, they're seeking to make life more expensive for smaller, poorer competitors.

The best way to accomplish that is to gin up a phony crisis and then demand more government regulations to fix it. The more regulations there are -- and the more complex -- the more expensive they are to comply with. Wealthy, successful companies can afford the extra cost; the smaller ones often can't.

The hearing chairman, Sen. Joey Brush, R-Appling, knew exactly what Thompson was up to. He pointed out that if employers didn't pay for the training, then entry-level food service workers would have to pay up to $125 in training costs themselves. That's a lot to ask of someone who's applying for low-wage work.

There are better and more efficient ways to ensure food is safely handled than piling on more standards and regulations. For instance, every year The Chronicle reports on the cleanliness and professional standards of all area eateries. Beyond that, worried consumers can always ask to see a restaurant's license and check out its kitchen. Just keep the government out of it.

Thompson also happens to be Gov. Roy Barnes' Senate floor leader, so let's hope the governor has better sense than to back this special-interest, anti-free enterprise proposal.


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