Bipartisan bills introduced Thursday in the Legislature would tighten food safety rules that came under scrutiny when diners got sick from norovirus outbreaks at Michigan restaurants.
The legislation would put model federal food safety guidelines into state law. Changes include:
-- requiring restaurants to have at least one manager who has passed an accredited food safety exam.
-- clarifying when ill employees can return to work. Someone with vomiting, diarrhea or a sore throat with fever could not return until 24 hours after the symptoms are gone. An employee with norovirus could not come back until getting permission from regulators and waiting 48 hours after symptoms disappear.
-- tightening controls of bare-hand contact with food.
"We will help squash the types of high-risk practices that can result in food-borne illnesses such as norovirus outbreaks," said state Rep. Jeff Mayes, a Democrat from Bay City and sponsor of the bills along with Sen. Gerald Van Woerkom, a Republican from Norton Shores.
The legislation also would let the Michigan Department of Agriculture create rules for hiring managers and track certification of restaurant managers.
"There is nothing more important than food safety," Van Woerkom said at a news conference with Mayes and state Agriculture Director Mitch Irwin.
In December, at least 52 people got sick from norovirus after eating food catered by a popular Ann Arbor restaurant, Afternoon Delight Cafe.
Lansing-area diners became sick from norovirus in the past 18 months at an Applebee's, Bravo Cucina Italiana and Carrabba's Italian Grill.
In 2006, the Michigan Department of Community Health recorded 145 norovirus outbreaks that sickened more than 5,000 people. That was about four times the 36 norovirus outbreaks reported in 2005.
The virus is spread person-to-person and causes flu-like systems including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.