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California food-safety training bill sent to governor

A California bill requiring food-safety training for all retail and restaurant food handlers was sent this week to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for his consideration, but proponents are concerned it may get killed in a battle of political wills over a massive budget deficit.

Senate Bill 602 was passed by the state Senate on a 30-1 vote Aug. 27, after having been approved 74-1 by the Assembly on Aug. 16.

SB 602 — which was created in a collaborative effort by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, his co-sponsors, the California Restaurant Association and county health officials — is described as a “landmark” bill by CRA spokesman Daniel Conway. It is based on existing mandatory food-handler-certification programs in the counties of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego, where foodborne illness outbreaks have decreased by 79 percent since the implementation of those measures, the bill’s backers said.

If signed by Schwarzenegger, SB 602 would require anyone who prepares, stores or serves food to undergo food-safety training and testing to receive a certification card good for three years. The proposed law requires that at least one training option cost no more than $15 per person and that training be made available online.

Existing California law requires each foodservice facility to have at least one owner or employee certified in safe food-handling practices so that they can train other workers.

The CRA supported a statewide measure in the form of SB 602, in part, to prevent a situation in which members had to deal with different food-safety certification rules in each of the state’s 58 counties.

But political tensions in the state capital, where the budget is two months overdue as lawmakers argue over how to eliminate a projected $19 billion deficit, could foil the trade group and other supporters of the bill.

Two years ago, in a similar state fiscal environment, Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, issued a blanket veto for all “policy bills,” such as SB 602, taking the position he would not consider such measures until the budget and deficit were taken care of, Conway of the CRA explained. This year, the political stakes are even higher, he indicated, given the supercharged partisan atmosphere among lawmakers heading into the fall general election and the fact that Schwarzenegger is in his final year of office and pushing strongly for budget and pension reform.

Despite the importance of the changes that may be brought about by SB 602 and its widespread support, the CRA is not yet ready to pop any champagne corks, Conway said.

“It would be unwise for us to take it [Schwarzenegger’s signature] for granted,” Conway said. “ It’s still a bill, not a law.”

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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