Some state changes in food safety-related laws are taking effect this week, and more are likely in the near future.

State and territorial legislative bodies, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL), last year passed an estimated 40,000 new laws, which mostly took effective on Jan. 1.

Only a small percentage of those directly involved food safety—a surprise after the number of Republicans holding down state legislative seats increased by more than 600 a year ago. Many were calling for less regulation, including over food safety.

In the end, exemptions were not handed out all that much by the states, and things state governments prohibit in the name of food safety probably got longer.

Ironically, a state usually sticky with its regulations — Oregon — was 2011’s exemption leader.   The new Oregon law exempts certain safer cottage foods from licensing, regulation, inspection, and some labeling requirements.

Another new Oregon law says the state Department of Agriculture may waive routine inspection of food establishments that sell only pre-packaged foods or establishments where food and beverage sales are not dominant.

California passed numerous laws, adding to its list of prohibitions. Any beer with caffeine included in it as a separate ingredient, may not be sold, distributed or produced in the Golden State.

The Sacramento lawmakers also banned the sale of live animals from public rights of way of state highways, roads, streets, parking lots and at carnivals.

Both Oregon and California put laws on their books that now prohibit the possession, sales, trade or distribution of shark fins.  Restaurants that purchased shark fins prior to Jan. 1, 2012 may include them on their menus and sell them to diners until Jan. 1, 2013.

California now bans the retail sale of expired infant food and formula. It also lifted its requirement that food stamp recipients submit to being fingerprinted.

Inmate-produced food in California may be sold to nonprofit organizations that support public schools and their students.  

California now permits craft beer makers to open tasting rooms if food is not served, and beer-making was exempted from the California Retail Food Code.

In Illinois, a new law will require purchasers of any “caustic and noxious substances,” including many household items that include products containing sulfuric or hydrochloric acids, to reveal their identities to retailers who must keep a log book detailing such purchases. Batteries are exempt from the new law.

Purchasing the “caustic and noxious substances” must be for manufacturing, scientific, teaching, or agriculture purposes or it is illegal to possess them.  Substances regulated under the Federal Caustic Poison Act must carry a “severe burn” warning.

The Land of Lincoln has also limited the regulation of non-hazardous food produced in home kitchens to only state-certified local health departments.

In Florida, the state  Department of Education lost control of the school lunch program to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Florida lawmakers want to see more healthy school lunches.

One of the more controversial new laws takes effect this week in Connecticut, where certain employers with 50 or more employees are being required to provide paid sick leave.  Eligible workers will accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours of work.

Manufacturers and some tax-exempt organizations are exempt from the new law, which promises to cut the number of food service and child care workers who go to work while ill.   It is the first statewide law of its kind.

The Connecticut law does not apply to salaried professionals who do not work on an hourly basis or temporary or day workers.

With most state legislatures being called into session shortly, attention is already beginning to focus on the future.  

NCSL predicts “food safety and systems” will be on the agenda at state houses in the coming year.

“With the recent deaths from listeria-contaminated cantaloupes and salmonella outbreaks in eggs, food safety is topping many agendas,” NCSL says. “Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in January 2011, which enhances the nation’s food safety regimen, much of which is done by states.

“States will either have to update their food safety programs or rely on the federal government to enforce these programs. Bills in 44 states were introduced in 2011 regarding food safety, and more are expected in 2012.”

With offices in Denver and Washington D.C., the bipartisan NCSL provides research and technical assistance for state and territorial legislators and their staffs.