A bill that requires that restaurant workers be trained and certified in proper food handling was approved by the California state Senate on August 27th. The legislation, which seeks to reduce the incidence of food-borne illnesses in the state, has already been approved by the Assembly and now will go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's desk.

Senate Bill 602, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), is modeled after successful programs in San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, which have reported a 79 percent decrease in food-borne illnesses since implementation. SB 602 would require similar training throughout the state, according to a press release put out by Sen. Padilla's office. “SB 602 will significantly improve food safety in California,” Padilla said in the release.

The bill requires workers who handle, prepare, service or sell non-prepackaged food to pass a test in safe food-handling. The training for the test covers such issues as cooking meat and eggs thoroughly; chilling leftovers properly; washing hands before preparing food; and washing fresh fruits and vegetables in running water. SB 602 also requires food workers to obtain food-handler certification within 30 days of their hire date and to maintain a valid food handler card throughout the duration of their employment.

The bill's approval comes amid the largest outbreak of salmonella contamination–in eggs from two Iowa farms–since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began tracking such incidents in the 1970s. More than half a billion eggs have been recalled and 1,500 illnesses have been reported, with more expected. The CDC estimates that food-borne diseases cause approximately 76 million illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths throughout the United States each year. (Don't ask yourself what untrained food prep workers have been doing up to now. Probably not something you want to think about.)

LA Weekly