The Florida Senate passed a bill to ensure the safety of tomato crops Tuesday, two years after a Salmonella scare connected to Florida tomatoes.

Craig Meyer, deputy commissioner at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, explained that the measure is another in a series of industry and regulators’ efforts designed to set minimum food safety standards.  He noted that Florida’s comprehensive program has surpassed those in other states over the past few years.

Meyer said the bill authorizes the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to inspect tomato farms, greenhouses, and packing facilities and will add enforcement powers while legally “fine tuning” what has come before.  

“We are the leader in this field,” Meyer told the Bradenton newspaper. The Florida Senate Bill 350 passed by a 35-1 vote and now will go to the House, where a similar measure, House Bill 69, awaits floor action.  Officials indicated it is expected to pass.

These bills come after the 2008 federal investigation of Salmonella outbreaks originally blamed on contaminated tomatoes. Investigators eventually found that Mexican jalapeno peppers were the culprit.  The case went on for so long that local tomato producers were hurt financially even though not a single Florida tomato was found to be contaminated.

Florida has 32,400 planted acres of tomato crops. 11,200 of these acres fall within the Manatee County boundaries, department public information director Liz Compton told the Bradenton Herald.

Local tomato farmers strongly support the bill as it sets standards that would apply to everyone who grows, distributes, or handles tomatoes.

“The bill enhances what we as a county and others have been practicing for quite a few years,” said Tony DiMare, vice president of DiMare Ruskin Inc.  DiMare claims around 5,000 acres of tomato farmland in Manatee County and a packing operation in Hillsborough County.

Officials said the bill would require each tomato business to pay a flat inspection fee of $100 annually that will go towards administrative costs.