Sacramento, CA – Today California leafy greens producers voted to strengthen mandatory food safety practices required on farms. The action is designed to protect consumers and prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks.
“The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board of Directors have adopted additional requirements to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing lettuce and leafy greens,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).
“This means that every box of leafy greens placed into commerce by a certified LGMA member will now be produced under new, more stringent requirements,” said Horsfall. “We have effectively changed the way leafy greens are farmed.”
The new standards approved by the LGMA Board are in direct response to investigations conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration into last year’s e. Coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce. A group of leafy greens industry members, growers and scientists has been working for several months in an effort facilitated by Western Growers to update LGMA requirements for agricultural water use. The updates include specific directives such as no longer allowing the use of untreated surface water for overhead irrigation of leafy greens prior to harvest.
Horsfall explained the LGMA program has always required growers to test their water because it can be a carrier of pathogens. But the new requirements now include additional safeguards that ensure farmers: categorize the source of the water; consider how and when water is applied to the crop; conduct testing to assure the water is safe for the intended use; sanitize water if necessary; and verify that all of the above precautions have been taken.
“The way to improve the safety of leafy greens is through the LGMA,” said Horsfall explaining this unique program exits only in the leafy green industry to enforce science-based food safety practices and includes certified government audits of farms to verify the required practices are being followed. The LGMA’s food safety practices meet, and often exceed, what is required under federal Produce Safety Rule regulations for other produce crops.
“For example, testing of irrigation water is currently not required by federal law,” said Horsfall. “But the actions taken by the LGMA Board today strengthen existing water testing and treatment requirements for 99 percent of the leafy greens grown in California.”
“Leafy greens farmers have an obligation to produce safe leafy greens,” said Dan Sutton, chairman of the LGMA and general manager of Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange, a producer of lettuce and other vegetables near San Luis Obispo. “We are keenly aware of the tragic impacts of foodborne illness. This is why we are so passionately committed to producing the safest leafy greens possible. To validate this commitment and compliance with food safety practices, we participate in the LGMA program which requires mandatory government audits of our farms.”
“Markon and its members are committed to buying leafy greens from certified members of the LGMA,” said Tim York, President of Salinas-based Markon, which sources fresh produce for foodservice companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. “We believe the LGMA is the best tool we have to ensure consumer safety for leafy greens. I encourage all buyers of leafy greens to purchase only from LGMA members. I’d consider anything less both irresponsible and reckless.”
The LGMA will begin immediately to make sure everyone in the leafy greens community understands how to comply with the new requirements. Additional information on specific changes to the LGMA food safety practices will be provided in the coming weeks and a webinar for retail and foodservice operations will be scheduled soon.