Laredo/Webb County is on the Texas/Mexico Border and is the number one inland port of entry to the United States with over 40% of the nation's trade passing through the five (5) international bridges in Laredo. Our ever sprawling developing international community is over 95% Mexican-American (as compared to 26% Statewide) and is the 2nd fastest growing community in Texas having experience 45% growth during the last decade. The City of Laredo Health Department serves a regional population of 300,000 in its service area which includes Webb, Zapata, Jim Hogg and Duval counties. On a daily basis because of trade and commerce it grows by an additional 75-100,000. Its sister City of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico has a population of over 800,000 making our metropolitan statistical area over 1 million. In addition up to 70% of the population in Laredo is medically indigent and therefore access to care in case of foodborne disease is a challenge that overwhelms this area. The threat of foodborne disease continues today in large part due to an increase in illegal food entry, increase in food establishments, and increase in illegal food vending, increase in illegal food storage facilities and not enough sanitarians and public health professionals, increasing the risk to our population for foodborne disease. On too many occasions on passive inspections we find illegal food products that are either made in homes or brought from Mexico (cheese and candy products) .Therefore more food safety management, food establishment education, foodborne disease prevention is a constant challenge requiring proactive vigilance. Because of these threats, we need to increase environmental health capacity (food safety management, investigations and enforcement), response, and training to the food establishment owners, the public and staff. Our asset is that we have an automated inspection and surveillance system to improve response but need staff for appropriate management, additional communication system capabilities (i.e., cell, GPS and email) to improve tracking and reporting, training, and inspection in the field and therefore improving our food safety system to one more efficient and responsive. As Laredo has done so many times in the past, we have developed our own local innovative resources and expertise to address the threat of foodborne and waterborne disease by investing in an automated environmental health training, enforcement, and data management surveillance system. Through a better inspection system we can also improve communication with the US Food and Drug Administration staff at the port of entry. Using updated and heightened communication systems in our field laptops, pre-programmed regulations, developing standardized operating procedures and situational guidelines we can enhance our environmental health capacity and further develop our workforce to conduct surveillance and enforcement as well as support food management education. In summary, Laredo is proposing to improve food safety by reducing the risks for foodborne disease primarily by augmenting and upgrading/updating our automated data management surveillance, investigation enforcement and field training system for the Environmental Health Services Division of the City of Laredo Health Department. This will be done through two (2) primary objectives: Capacity Building and Workforce development and this will also enhance our capability to fulfill the United States Food and Drug Administration Voluntary National Retail Food Regulatory Program Standards.
What the CLHD is proposing is to improve food safety by reducing illegal food entry, illegal food vending and illegal food storage. We need to increase and enhance surveillance, enforcement and investigations (particularly more field investigations and inspections of warehouses) as well conduct food safety and food management education to the public, work force, and food establishments. By accomplishing this we can significantly reduce the rate of foodborne and waterborne illnesses and therefore the potential of outbreaks in the community.