Anyone looking for a trend in new state food safety laws taking effective this week had better remember one thing. The state legislative chambers that put the latest round of new food safety laws on the books were blown up by last November’s elections.
This year, 3,943 Republicans will be taking state legislative offices, a high water mark for the GOP since the 1928 elections put 4,001 statehouse seats in the R’s column.
Last November went even better for the Republicans than 1994’s historic gain of 500 seats. The GOP picked up 675 seats, enough to flip control of 20 legislative chambers.
So this year’s trends might now mean much now. Take state bans or restrictions on bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products. The hardening agent for plastic products, like baby bottles and sippy cups, has gained attention because of research pointing to its potential for increasing risks for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Congress have not restricted BPA use, some states have. The National Conference of State Legislatures says that in 2010, 59 bills to restrict BPA were introduced in 18 states.
New York’s BPA ban went into effect last month.
Based on a bill passed last year, Washington state in 2011 becomes the seventh since 2009 to impose BPA restrictions. Its two-stage ban first addresses food and beverage containers for children under 3, which takes effect in July 2011, and then bans BPA from sports bottles by July 2012.
Other states with BPA bans are Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont and Wisconsin.
California’s trans fat law took effect last year at this time, but the more defined and enforceable rules are taking effect this week. Under those new rules, no food of any kind containing artificial trans fat may be stored, distributed, served, or used in preparation of any food at a food facility in the state.
New menu labeling laws are now in effect in California. The Golden State’s July 2009 menu labeling requirements called for making a brochure available listing calories, carbohydrates, grams of saturated fat and mg sodium. Beginning this week, just the calorie content must be listed for each standard menu item on menus, indoor menu boards, or on display tags on display cases.
Restaurants with 20 or more outlets must comply with the new menu law.
California also has a new law requiring its estimated one million food and beverage workers to take safe food handling courses.
Some of the other new state food safety-related laws taking effect this week include:
In Massachusetts, a “bittering agent” must be added to coolants and antifreeze sold in the state to prevent young children and animals from drinking the toxic substances.
In New York, the minimum wage for food service and hospitality workers this week increases to $5.00 per hour, up from $4.65. The new law allows tip sharing among certain types of employees and allows restaurants and hotels to set up their own systems and percentages.
In Connecticut, a law allowing sales of jams and jellies at farmers markets was amended to allow, beginning this week, the sales of “acidified foods” including salsa, pickles and hot sauce. The products have to be farm-grown and carry a warning letter that the contents were prepared in a kitchen exempt from government inspection.
In Pennsylvania, a new food safety bill providing minimal standards based on the FDA food code went into effect. It sets fees of $150 for retail food establishments that are found noncompliant and must be re-inspected. The fee goes to $300 for the third inspection. If a local health department fails to perform a required inspection, the state Department of Agriculture will take over the job.
Wisconsin’s outgoing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed a 2010 bill to legalize raw milk. The dairy state went all “red” for 2011, giving control of both houses and the governor’s mansion to the Republicans.
Most state legislative chambers are called into session in January. Republicans hold all the legislative chambers in 25 states, the Democrats hold them all in 16, and control is split in eight states.
All the chamber switches were from Democratic to Republican control. Oregon’s lower house, previously under control of the Democrats, is now tied.
Republicans control the Alabama Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, the North Carolina Senate for the first time since 1870, and the Minnesota Senate for the first time since 1974.
What this means for state-level food safety is not known, but observers say indications of what the new lawmakers want to do will be told by their early bill filings.