“Crawfish” Bills Would Exempt Public Boils, and other events, from Health Department Rules

Mobile, AL (WKRG) – Mobile County’s health department continues monitoring for bars not following food safety rules when it comes to crawfish boils. New legislation pending in the state house would take health departments out of the mix entirely.  

So you could say the kerfuffle over crawfish is getting kicked up a notch, all the way in Montgomery.  Mobile County State Representative Margie Wilcox introduced bills this session that would strip health departments from the ability to regulate crawfish boils, fish fry’s and other events that have a regional, traditional significance

This bill would prohibit the Alabama Department of Public Health from regulating food preparation and distribution by an intermittent food service establishment that otherwise does not prepare, sell, or distribute food on a regular basis or in its regular line of business when that establishment prepares or distributes food in association with a regional celebration or tradition.

From HB462

Wilcox says this is not making people less safe and says crawfish boils aren’t making people sick in the first place.

“Right now in state government, county government, municipal government, our funds are very very tight so I feel like we should be utilizing our staff and our resources to actually do things that are presenting a problem, crawfish are not presenting a problem,” said State Representative Margie Wilcox.

Members of the Mobile County Health Department also addressed members of the Mobile City Council on this very issue Tuesday.  They say bars who set up these events have to follow health regulations.  

“As a public health official and employees of public health, it is our duty and responsibility to protect the community even when the community doesn’t want to be protected,” said Dr. Stephanie Woods-Crawford with the Mobile County Health Department.  You can see the entirety of her comments here in this link to Tuesday’s Mobile City Council meeting.  

If passed and signed into law, events that get this exemption would have to have a sign that reads in part:

“The consumption of any food at this location is at the consumer’s own risk.” From HB528.

HB528 is a local bill pertaining only to Mobile County.  HB462 would encompass the entire state.  It’s not clear how far these bills will get with such a short time left in the legislative session.  Wilcox says she’s gotten a lot of support from local lawmakers and has suddenly been invited to crawfish boils across the state.

You’ll remember last year when the Mobile County Health Department began cracking down on boils. It was believed a compromise was reached last year.  Dr. Crawford-Woods said at Tuesday’s city council meeting that the MCHD can no longer offer variances to bars and other establishments that want to host periodic crawfish boils.  They have to follow state law as it stands now.  She suggested some establishments could either buy crawfish from restaurants which are regulated by the MCHD or host a large downtown event, such as a chili cookoff, which would meet with health department standards.

UPDATE Saturday, April 29th, 2017

The MCHD sent a letter to elected leaders saying HB528 would put the public at risk.  You can read the letter here.

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