in Houston, Texas
Texas health officials deny records request on foodborne illness
Wednesday, Feb 08, 2012, 10:31AM CST
By Steve Miller
petri dish

The Food Safety News was denied records by the state of Texas to find out exactly which restaurant was linked to a national salmonella outbreak last fall, but other states complied, pointing to Taco Bell as the culprit.

In federal documents, Taco Bell was referred to only as “restaurant Chain A.”

Michigan, known for its poor ranking with regard to public records policies, this week became the second state to comply with the request from the trade magazine. Oklahoma turned over its records last week. Food Safety News reporter James Andrews filed his requests on Jan. 19 with the “Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration and the 10 state health departments involved in the outbreak, asking health officials for the name of the fast food chain and the locations of the three restaurants where more than one victim ate.”

Nebraska denied access with a letter.
 
Texas had the most reported illnesses with 43 and simply denied the request.
 
Andrews said he called the press office at the Texas Department of State Health Services, which bounced him from person to person until finally telling him no.
 
He also received an email from the department citing a prior ruling by the attorney general. The AG had found that certain public health records related to "cases or suspected cases of diseases or health conditions" are not subject to release under the Texas Public Information Act. The AG in 2010 had given the agency permission to withhold such records in the future without seeking new rulings.
 
In an email, Andrews said he was told by the state health department that “they were not able to provide the name of the restaurant because they saw that as the responsibility of the CDC and FDA and those agencies had chosen to withhold the information.”

The Food Safety News is run by the Seattle-based law firm Marler Clark, which specializes in plaintiff’s suits in food sickness cases. Taco Bell did not respond to an interview request from the publication.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 4:17 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, to reflect that the Texas Department of State Health Services had sent correspondence to Food Safety News regarding the denial of the public records request.

***
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of petri dish by flickr user News21-usa, used via a Creative Commons license.

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