California Farmers Strengthen Leafy Greens Food Safety Practices
California’s leafy greens producers have voted for more stringent food safety practices on farms, in an effort to protect consumers and prevent future outbreaks of foodborne illnesses.
“The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement board of directors [has] 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. We have effectively changed the way leafy greens are farmed.”
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. For example, untreated surface water can no longer be used for overhead irrigation prior to harvest.
The new requirements are in response to the e. coli outbreak involving romaine lettuce last year.
“Leafy greens farmers have an obligation to produce safe leafy greens,” noted Dan Sutton, chairman of the LGMA and GM of Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange, a producer of lettuce and other vegetables near San Luis Obispo, Calif. “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.”
Unique in the industry in enforcing science-based food safety practices, the LGMA program 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's required under federal Produce Safety Rule regulations for other produce crops.
The LGMA was created in 2007 in response to an e. coli outbreak that sickened more than 200 people, with the goal to assure safe leafy greens and confidence in U.S. food safety programs.