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E. coli legislation moves forward in California

Yesterday, the California Senate Health Committee passed three bills introduced by Senator Dean Florez. Before they reached the Senate Health Committee, the bills could be summarized as follows:Spinach Harvest

  • Senate Bill 200 gives the Department of Health Services the much-needed authority to recall, quarantine, or destroy produce which may pose a threat to the public. The measure also creates an inspection program to proactively address the threat of outbreaks. DHS inspectors would have the authority to conduct periodic on-farm inspections, including testing of water, soil and produce.
  • Senate Bill 201 mandates Good Agricultural Practices for leafy green growers, covering everything from water and fertilizer use, to worker hygiene, to the creation of buffer zones between fields and potential contamination sources. Growers would be required to maintain extensive documentation of these practices. These documents would be reviewed by DHS to ensure compliance.
  • Senate Bill 202 calls for the creation of a traceback system that can quickly trace contaminated produce through the various stages of the distribution process, from farm to processor, to distributor, to retailer. In the most recent E. coli outbreaks, lettuce and spinach producers nationwide took a major economic hit, because it could not immediately be determined where the contaminated produce came from and every farm was suspect. The ability to quickly find the specific source in an outbreak, combined with DHS’ ability to quarantine or destroy suspect produce, will prevent a similar industry-wide hit in future E. coli outbreaks.

According to an article in today’s Salinas Californian, the bills passed out of the Senate Health Committee into the Senate Appropriations Committee, but were amended to instruct public health officials to set safety standards for growers of leafy green vegetables to follow. The Californian’s Jake Henshaw wrote:

Florez originally proposed that the state health department license growers, set field standards and enforce them with inspections.

But SB 201 was amended in the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by [Senator Abel] Maldonado, to make state health department regulation a backup to the industry if it failed to adopt its own mandatory safety standards.

SB 200 does require the departments of Public Health and of Food and Agriculture to administer jointly an inspection program of farmers’ records and field operations to be sure they are meeting approved standards.

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