State Politics

Tomato food safety bill set for House vote

MANATEE — A bill designed to ensure the food safety of Florida-grown tomatoes is poised for a vote Thursday in the state House of Representatives.

The measure came up Tuesday on the House’s special order calendar, which cleared the way for a floor vote later in the week, according to the office of state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who, as chair of the House Rules and Calendar Council, sets the chamber’s agenda.

“I think it’ll pass,” said Butch Calhoun, director of governmental affairs for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, which represents a majority of the state’s fruit and vegetable growers. “There was no opposition, no amendments. If anybody was going to take a run at it, they’d do it now.”

The Florida Senate has already passed an identical measure 35-1.

The bill was written with the help of at least one local tomato grower.

Manatee County farmers raise almost a third of the 32,400 acres planted in tomatoes in the state, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The legislation is another step in a series of industry and regulators’ efforts designed to set minimum food safety standards, The Herald has previously reported.

It would authorize the state to inspect tomato farms, greenhouses and packing facilities, and add enforcement powers.

Local tomato growers favor the legislation because it sets standards that would apply to everyone who grows, distributes or handles tomatoes, The Herald has reported.

The legislation revises the term “food establishment” to include tomato repackers for purposes of the Florida Food Safety Act, and requires minimum food safety standards for producing, harvesting, packing, and repacking tomatoes, according to the bill.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.