California leafy greens producers have strengthened the mandatory food safety practices required on their farms. The action is designed to protect consumers and prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks like the one associated with romaine lettuce last year.
“During its April 19 Board meeting, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) adopted new, more stringent requirements to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing lettuce and leafy greens,” said CEO Scott Horsfall. LGMA is a food safety program that represents 99% of the leafy greens grown in California.
“This means that every box of leafy greens placed into commerce by a certified LGMA member will now be produced under these new requirements,” Horsfall said. “We have effectively changed the way leafy greens are farmed.”
Horsfall explained that under the LGMA program, members are required to follow a set of science-based food safety practices and that every LGMA member is audited by certified government officials an average of five times per year to verify the required practices are being followed on leafy greens farms.
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. They include specific directives such as no longer allowing the use of untreated surface water for overhead irrigation of leafy greens prior to harvest. Although, the LGMA program has always required growers to test their water because it can be a carrier of pathogens, the new requirements now include additional safeguards to ensure farmers categorize the source of the water, consider how and when it’s applied to the crop and sanitize irrigation water if necessary.
“The LGMA is a unique program that exists only in the leafy greens industry,” said Horsfall who noted the program enforces stringent food safety practices that 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. The new changes will add to the LGMA’s existing requirements for water testing on 99% of the leafy greens grown in the 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 out compliance with food safety practices, we participate in the LGMA program which requires mandatory government audits of our farms.”