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WASHINGTON -- The state of California should move quickly to adopt regulations governing the production of fruit and vegetables in California since no federal agency has yet adopted standards, said the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
In a legal petition filed with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and California Department of Health Services Director Sandra Shewry, CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal said that mandatory regulations governing manure, water, and sanitation on farms could help reduce the number of produce-borne food outbreaks, such as the recent outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 traced to California-farmed spinach.
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"California should implement standards to protect its consumers and its produce industry, instead of waiting for Congress or one of the federal agencies with food safety responsibilities to step in," DeWaal said. "This is clearly a case where prompt action at the state level could prevent future outbreaks."
CSPI urged the officials to adopt measures similar to the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards that meat and poultry producers are required to comply with nationwide. HACCP systems -- coupled with test and hold programs for ground beef -- have proven effective in reducing the number of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks linked to beef.
CSPI says that the use of raw manure as fertilizer should be prohibited during the growing season, and that composting practices should be monitored to ensure pathogens are destroyed. Water used for irrigation must be tested and found suitable and only drinkable water should be used in produce processing facilities, the organization said.
CSPI's petition also urged better hygiene and sanitation on farms, and improved package markings that can be used to track back produce to the farm of origin.
"We are reaching a tipping point, where consumers may not trust voluntary industry programs and instead may choose to stop eating foods that are both convenient and vital to good health, said DeWaal. "I don't think Salinas County growers can afford to be the cause of another large outbreak."
In other action, CSPI wrote to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to request that the department do "a fair and accurate reporting of the deaths and illnesses linked to the recent spinach outbreak."
Specifically, CSPI asked that Leavitt declare June Edith Dunning, an elderly Maryland woman who died September 13 from complications due to E. coli 0157:H7, as the fourth fatal victim of the spinach outbreak that affected consumers in 26 states; and further, that Leavitt personally assess the methods being used by CDC to distinguish "official" cases from "suspect" cases and give a full accounting of the public health impact of this outbreak.