This week I was planning on writing about the emerging food safety issues that we will likely be dealing with in 2012.


Then I looked at what I wrote last year and decided my ability to forecast what’s going to be important is not one of my strong suits. In the (going on) three years we’ve been doing this, the one thing I’ve learned is that food safety is not very predictable.

I mean, who among us at this point last year could have seen that an E. coli strain hardly anyone had heard of would be responsible for the deadly and damaging outbreak that O104:H4 brought the world in 2011?

So in lieu of predicting the future, I’ve decided to visit the future instead. I’m spending New Year’s weekend in the capital of the Republic — Austin, Texas.  

If you live in one of the other 49 states, where things are moving a little slower than they should, where too many people are looking for work and folks are in generally feeling a little down, a good way to feel better about the future is to come to Texas.

Now, I’ve not spent in a lot of time in Texas, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of every visit here.  This time, I am finding myself feeling better about the future because folks in Austin are so darn positive about what they’ve got going on.

And, remember, they are the liberals in a conservative state. With my food safety radar always on, I made a couple important discoveries about Austin.

First, they care about their food handlers here. I’ve not come across an after-hours party for card-carrying food handlers anywhere else. But that’s what they do here.

Second, Lone Star State law on establishment and food handler licensing are not at all pushovers. There’s no quick, easy way to get a food handler license. You have to enroll in a 75-minute course and pay fees.

As for establishment licensing, Austin’s recent food truck ordinance is being used as model for others. The city has an estimated 1,600 food trucks and 5,000 brick and mortar establishments under its regulation.

And as we learned last year, the Texas Health Department has the power to shut down a food manufacturer, without the need to obtain a court order, if public health is in danger — as it did with SanGar Fresh Cut Produce in San Antonio.

Austin’s economy has many parts. Whole Foods is headquartered here. High tech companies stretch out to the suburb of Round Tree where Dell Computer is located. The University of Texas and government abound.

But all those food and beverage people, honored with their own party, are needed because of an Austin live music industry that has grown into a $1 billion a year industry.

And while it was probably LBJ’s support of the University of Texas that turned this place into the Silicon Hills, one man is also credited for the local music scene. He moved back to Texas after spending time in Nashville, which he felt was too constraining.

That’s why the street outside Austin’s new Moody Theater, home of “Austin City Limits,” longest running music show on television, is named “Willie Nelson Boulevard.”  He’s the $1 billion man.