Indiana lawmakers about to tackle food safety


When Indiana lawmakers return to the State Capitol next week, they'll have plenty of issues to deal with. Along with drafting a state budget and debating controversial "Right to Work" legislation, they'll also be tackling the topic of food safety.

"We really need to act now," said Rep. Bill Davis (R – Portland). "If we have the ability to stop this in transit, why wait till we make someone sick?"

Davis is lead-sponsor of a bill that would help protect your family from dangerous food. He decided to draft the legislation after watching Eyewitness News' investigation showing truckloads of unsafe food heading to Indiana grocery stores and restaurants.

13 Investigates and Indiana State Police first exposed the problem this summer, documenting unrefrigerated meat and seafood transported at dangerously-high temperatures – often alongside produce and grains contaminated by blood and juices dripping from the raw meat.

"It's deplorable. It's unacceptable," Davis said, after watching 13 Investigates' video. "With all the salmonella and e.Coli that we're hearing about every day, we ought to stop it where we find it."

Davis' bill would close a gap in state law that currently makes it difficult to stop dangerous food in transit.

Under current law, Indiana State Police motor carrier officers can stop any truck to check for safety violations such as failing brakes, overweight loads or driver fatigue. State Troopers can issue a citation and place a truck and its driver "out of service" for any of those safety problems, but they have no authority to cite or detain a truck on the basis of transporting food in an unsafe manner. Davis' bill would change that.

"We're going to give them the ability to take that truck out of service on the spot," said the four-term lawmaker.

The legislation would allow properly-trained ISP troopers to cite a motor carrier for transporting food at improper temperatures (a serious threat that can cause food poisoning) and place that truck out of service. It would also impose criminal penalties for carriers who deliver adulterated food that had been ordered condemned, and make transportation companies pay the cost of discarding their condemned truckloads of food. Under the current system, that cost often falls on local municipalities. 

The bill is now being drafted by the Legislative Services Agency and will be formally introduced in the House of Representatives next week, where it will likely be assigned to the Public Health Committee or to the Roads & Transportation Committee.

It already has support from Indiana State Police and the Indiana State Department of Health. Key industry groups – including the Indiana Motor Truck Association, the Indiana Restaurant Association and Indiana Grocery Association – tell Eyewitness News they will likely support the legislation, too.

"We favor any efforts to improve food safety," said IMTA president Gary Langston, who has not yet seen the food transportation safety bill. "We agree that if the enforcement officer identifies an unsafe situation involving food, we believe he should have the authority to act as needed on the spot. We'd be completely in support of that."

The President of Indiana Grocery & Convenience Store Association agrees. "Right now, the whole thing is a mish-mosh of state and federal rules that makes enforcement problematic," said IGCSA president Joe Lackey. "Our industry's concern is if consumers lose confidence in the products, we're in big trouble … so we'd be very much in favor of that [legislation]."

Davis believes his colleagues in the Indiana General Assembly will support the bill, too.

"I don't think this is a bill that will be controversial," he said. "It's an issue that affects everyone on a daily basis. It affects our families, affects our children, affects the general public, so my guess is it comes out of this House 98 to 0 and sails through the Senate the very same way. This is about the food safety of all Hoosiers and people across the country."