Commentary: Plenty of holes still exist in food safety net

California, the great cornucopia of the United States, has much to be thankful for when it comes to food production.

From dairy products, citrus nuts and grapes to more specialized products, such as wine and dried persimmons, California puts food and drink on tables around the world.

The state is a pacesetter in U.S. and world markets on a number of fronts. California drives innovation in introducing new plant varieties, new ways of fending off pests and diseases and new ways of packaging to retain freshness.

Overall, our food supply is very safe. The University of California, Davis, with the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, is a leader in research and outreach – helping to bring about new practices to improve food safety. State laboratories were instrumental in detecting the contamination of pet food with melamine in 2007.

But even with the strength of the state's safety net, there are still some holes to be mended. In recent years, deadly E. coli and salmonella outbreaks originating here have killed and sickened consumers.

As state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter (Kern County), chairman of the Senate Food and Agriculture Committee, has said, "With each new outbreak – almonds in 2004, spinach in 2006, peppers in 2008 (and now beef this past summer) – we find cracks in our food safety and regulatory systems."

If California wants to maintain a global reputation for having the safest food grown anywhere, the state must take more of a leadership role in ensuring food safety.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Sacramento Bee.