Question: What do alligators, manatees, and the world’s most beloved mouse have in common?
Answer: They all live harmoniously in the state where visitors outnumber residents five to one and, fortunately for all concerned, exemplary food safety leadership and undertakings are as commonplace as the sandy beaches, surf, and sunshine that draw and hold everyone there.
Ah, Florida. It’s definitely not just for spring break. (Just ask Mickey.)
On any given day, there are 1.8 million visitors in Florida, according to VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation.
Alabama’s and Georgia’s popular southern neighbor welcomed a whopping105 million visitors in 2015, marking the fifth consecutive year that a record was set. Since Florida’s population is just over 20 million, that pencils out to five tourists for every resident (although not all of those visitors are there at the same time, of course).
Tourism spending (tourism/recreational taxable sales) was $89.1 billion in Florida in 2015.
In 2014 (the most recent information available, as we go to press), the greater Orlando area alone, which includes Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort (with its four theme parks, 36 resort hotels [27 of which are operated by Disney], four golf courses, and two water parks) welcomed 62 million people, making it the most visited tourist locale in the U.S., reports Visit Orlando, the destination’s official tourism association.
Obviously two of the most important tourism industries in the Sunshine State are hotels and restaurants, and both are licensed and regulated by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) Division of Hotels & Restaurants (H&R), according to Ken Lawson, DBPR secretary. (The secretary is the head of the DBPR, appointed by the governor, with no set term limit and subject to confirmation by the state senate.)
The main priorities of DBPR’s inspectors are safety and sanitation, Lawson notes. “That’s why H&R adheres to the standards of the FDA Food Code,” he relates. “H&R has achieved an 81 percent decrease in foodborne illness outbreaks statewide since 1997, the year we began tracking data related to foodborne illnesses.”
That’s no small feat because H&R currently inspects more than 51,000 licensed public food service establishments in the state.
Calling DBPR’s initiative one of the most prominent food safety regulatory programs in the nation, Lawson mentions that H&R was the recipient of the prestigious Elliot O. Grosvenor Food Safety Award at the 2014 Association of Food and Drug Officials Annual Educational Conference. The Grosvenor Food Safety Award recognizes the achievements of food safety programs within state departments of agriculture, natural resources, public health, or environmental protection in the U.S. and Canada.
“With this award, H&R was recognized for leading the nation in improvement, innovation, and sustained high performance in food safety practices and procedures,” Lawson boasts. “DBPR’s food safety and sanitation inspectors are committed to ensuring Florida maintains its spot as a global destination for travel.”
After tourism, agriculture is Florida’s second largest industry, generating more than $120 billion for the state’s economy and supporting more than 2 million jobs.
“Florida is one of the nation’s leading producers of fresh produce and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has a long and proud history of working with producers to ensure the wholesomeness and safety of our food,” says Susan Caime Mardenborough, FDACS’s senior Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) policy advisor.
It’s old news that citrus fruits, especially oranges, are a major part of the Florida economy and that the state produces the majority of citrus fruit grown in the U.S. The Florida citrus industry creates a $10.8 billion annual economic impact, employing nearly 62,000 people, and covering about 515,000 acres, according to Florida Citrus Mutual, the state’s largest citrus grower organization.