FDA meets with Salinas farmers over food safety


Four years ago, E. coli tainted spinach from the Salinas Valley killed three people and made more than 200 people sick. The federal government is now talking about adopting national produce safety regulation and is holding meetings in several states including one that occurred in Seaside.

"We thought it very important for the growers, who are on the front lines of doing food safety day in and day out, be able to share their experience, their expertise," says Jim O'Hara, the director of the Produce Safety Project.

Salinas Valley growers say they learned quite a bit from the E. coli crisis in 2006 and are now sharing some of their best safety practices with the Food and Drug Administration.

California's leafy green produce growers adopted voluntary guidelines dealing with everything from worker hygiene to electronic tracking systems that can trace contamination back to a particular field.

Some growers told the FDA the auditing system works.

"Everybody needs to be on the same page and take care of the same things in order to provide that food safety for everybody," says Tim Discoll from Valley Pride, Inc.

Some small farmers though are worried regulation overload could put a strain on their business.

"We have me, the farmer. I'm supervising people, I'm doing the harvesting, I'm doing some of the deliveries," says Kevin McEnnis from Quetzal Farm.

The FDA says the challenge with mandatory nationwide rules is that they must address multiple size growers, various regions, and a wide variety of crops, which is why the agency is getting input now.

"In the past, FDA has issued proposed rules and then invited comment. We're trying to get it right the first time before we write it," says Jeff Farrar, the FDA associate commissioner.

The FDA hopes to have a produce safety proposal by the end of the year.

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