Senate Hearing Addresses Food Safety
The Department of Health Services is charged with leading state investigations of foodborne illnesses, but the agency is not authorized to order mandatory recalls or regulate farms in some ways, DHS officials said at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Bailey, San Jose Mercury News, 10/12).
Senate Governmental Organization Committee Chair Dean Florez (D-Bakersfield) convened the hearing to discuss the state and federal response to a recent E. coli outbreak linked to produce grown in California (Lin, Los Angeles Times, 10/12).
At the hearing, Florez cited a January 2006 letter from state Public Health Officer Mark Horton to Tom Nassif, president of the Western Growers Association, that "strongly urged" Nassif "to take immediate steps" FDA in 2005 released to prevent outbreaks.
Horton also informed Nassif that state regulators would evaluate existing regulations for produce growers.
However, Kevin Reilly, a deputy DHS director, said that none of the steps Horton outlined had been completed but added that the department continues to work with produce growers to address food safety concerns (Griffith, Sacramento Bee, 10/12).
FDA submitted written testimony to the hearing but declined to send a representative (Lucas, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12).
Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Modesto) and Assembly member Nicole Parra (D-Bakersfield) -- chairs of the Senate and Assembly agriculture committees, respectively -- said they would convene hearings of their own committees once the investigation into the source of the contamination is completed (Pollard, Bakersfield Californian, 10/11).
Florez said he plans to introduce a package of legislation in January that would increase the state's authority over produce growers (Schultz, Fresno Bee, 10/12).