Will new law impact state’s ability to shut down restaurants for foodborne disease outbreaks?

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW) – In response to health mandates Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health enacted during the early days of the pandemic, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 22, which allows state lawmakers to reject or modify any health orders.

DeWine vetoed the bill, but his veto was overturned in 2021 by the statehouse and senate.

Among those supporting the new law limiting the state’s power to issue sweeping health orders are the owners of bars and restaurants, many of whom took a financial beating as a result of the pandemic and shutdown.

The president of the Ohio Restaurant Association said Senate Bill 22 enables owners to decide what’s best for their business, employees and customers, but it does not change the ability of health departments to police bars and restaurants.

“We have 113 health departments in the state of Ohio and they are still operating and doing their regular jobs. As it relates to doing things like requiring face masks or vaccines, that’s not in their jurisdiction anymore, and so that’s now back up to the businesses to decide,” John Barker told FOX 8.

However, critics of Senate Bill 22 claim it hurts the ability of health departments to shut down restaurants and issue quarantine orders if there is an outbreak of a foodborne disease.

We asked new Lorain County Health Commissioner Mark Adams to explain how the new law impacts such cases.

“Only that person that is diagnosed with the disease can be isolated and really it kind of limits that ability to quarantine folks that may be suspect,” he said.

However, Adams said such cases are extremely rare.

“Ohio has a great program when it comes to actually catching food that is maybe tainted or bad in some way and getting information and word out to the supermarkets and to the people before we really have to use that,” he said.

Those in the hospitality industry say it’s in the best interest of every restaurant owner to continue to comply with the best health and safety practices.

“Right now, if a restaurant has a bad report for reasons that are at a very high level, in terms of unsanitary or the food is held at the wrong temperatures and it’s done repeatedly, and there’s no corrective action, we would expect the health department to require that restaurant to close and fix that. In fact, we would tell the restaurant, we would tell any member of ours to close and fix it,” said Barker.

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