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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Calif. Lawmaker Moves to Ensure Safety of Leafy Greens

A California state lawmaker is introducting an action plan to protect the safety of California-grown leafy greens following a series of deadly E. coli outbreaks that shook consumer confidence in greens and packaged salads.

State Sen. Dean Florez will introduce the California Produce Safety Action Plan on Thursday in Sacramento. The plan includes three measures which address food supply vulnerabilities, from water used to irrigate crops to the process for tracing the source of an outbreak.

"While these outbreaks may have dealt a temporary blow to consumer confidence, we have an opportunity here to take what we've learned from theexperience and create a food safety system that is second to none, just like California produce," Florez says.

The first measure Florez will introduce would give the California Department of Health Services (DHS) the authority it needs to effectively manage future outbreaks, such as allowing DHS to recall, quarantine or destroy tainted produce, Florez's office says.

Under the measure, growers of leafy greens would be required toget a license through DHS, just like processors do, and identify risk factors at their growing locations, such as proximity to wildlife that could track E. coli into crops. The bill also creates an inspection program, funded by licensing fees, which will send inspectors to farms to conduct testing of water, soil and produce.

The second bill calls on DHS to establish "good agricultural practices"which growers of leafy greens must follow, governing everything from waterand fertilizer use to issues of sanitation and flooding. The bill prohibitsthe use of creek water for irrigation or raw manure for fertilizer and requires that water used for growing leafy greens be tested every two weeks during the growing season and immediately prior to harvest, Florez says. Growers must maintain records of these practices, which must be reviewed prior to transporting the leafy greens, his office adds.

The third measure would require DHS to establish requirements for a traceback system, which will allow the speedy tracking of leafy greens fromfarm to retailer. An expedited traceback system would allow DHS to quickly trace contaminated greens to their precise source, preventing a repeat of September when all spinach was suspect and all growers took the hit because consumers did not know which produce they could trust, Florez's office says.

U.S. per capita consumption of fresh spinach, head lettuce and leaf lettuce totals 33.9 pounds annually, according to an estimate by the University of California. Fresh spinach sales totaled $157 million in 2005 and accounted for only seven percent of the $2.1 billion in sales of leafy greens, the estimate adds.

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