Fresh Express Signs Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement

SALINAS - After months of holding out, Fresh Express here signed on to a set of new food safety guidelines outlined in the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement in the first week of the measure's implementation.

The board of produce industry players behind the marketing agreement, which was created in response to last fall's E. coli outbreak in fresh spinach, officially began on April 1,voted unanimously last week to accept the good agricultural practice (GAP) metrics, after meeting regularly for weeks to construct the framework of the program. The resulting guidelines will be overseen by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Assessments of 2-cents per carton will fund the operation of the program. The marketing agreement should be up and running ready when a new crop of leafy greens is harvested in the Salinas Valley in a few weeks. The new plan will be phased in during the coming weeks as the next round in the growing season gets underway.

Fresh Express's president Tanios E. Viviani said his company, the last to sign up for the agreement by the March 31deadline, is "encouraged that its concerns about food safety are being addressed." He said Fresh Express was in support of strengthening the Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) Metrics to "make them more robust," and also of extending the agreement into other states, beginning in Arizona." He said his company had also wanted to make sure "the agreement will not be used for promotional purposes, but will remain steadfastly focused on metrics and verification to further food safety.

"Significant support has been gathered from industrywide organizations including the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, California Farm Bureau Federation and the National Restaurant Association, among others," he added.

"Fresh Express is not changing its integrated, comprehensive and preventive food safety standards and practices, which are already substantially higher than the agreement's," Viviano said. "However, improvements have been made to the agreement's GAP metrics that begin to address concerns voiced by Fresh Express and additional commitments have been made to continue to strengthen the metrics, to increase their scope and to expand the agreement into other states. Therefore, Fresh Express will now sign the agreement to further support raising the level of food safety in the industry."
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