For Food Safety Sake

Published online: Feb 14, 2023 Articles Washington State Potato Commission
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Moses Lake, Washington – A new proposal in the Washington state legislature would toss out federal food packaging rules and make it more difficult to market our premier product: potatoes.

Grocery store produce tables are stacked high with potatoes in 5- and 10-pound perforated plastic bags. But the Washington Recycling and Packaging (WRAP) Act would require potato packers to join a “producer responsibility organization” (PRO) and pay fees for the production and use of their branded bagged produce.

The bill also requires bag producers to change the composition of their bags to include increasing amounts of post-consumer recycled materials. A similar piece of legislation was passed in California in 2022.

However, the California legislation has one distinct difference: fresh produce is exempt from the requirements. California Senate Bill 54 states: “Neither the department nor a PRO shall impose a postconsumer recycled content requirement for covered material for fresh produce.”

Why? Because the Federal Drug Administration, which governs food packaging, requires food packaging to be “cleanable” or for “single-use” that is “unlikely to support growth or transfer of bacteria.”

The perforations in plastic potato bags promote air circulation and help to regulate storage temperatures to keep the potatoes fresh. They also make the bags “single use.”

Even authors of the bill note there are regulatory authorities that may supersede the bill language. It reads, “A producer regulatory organization must show that post-consumer recycled material rates would violate federal law” or show the amount of post-consumer recycled material in a bag is not “technologically feasible.” These organizations would still be required to register producers and users of these plastics, track, and report their usage on a public website.

Environmental stewardship is important but needs practical solutions. Creating regulations that put our local potato producers in violation of federal fresh produce packaging rules puts them in a no-win situation.