May 12, 2020
Leafy greens process to strengthen food safety rules

Although leafy greens farmers are facing new challenges created by the Coronavirus pandemic, efforts to strengthen required food safety practices are still moving forward with numerous actions taking place this month. 

“California’s leafy greens farmers are hard at work every day implementing new, more stringent food safety practices on their farms,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). “At the same time, we’re all focused on further strengthening the food safety standards required under the LGMA to protect consumers and prevent future outbreaks.” 

Under a new process created to review and update required food safety practices for farming leafy green, the first in a series of webinars is being held May 14 at 10 a.m. to gather input on proposed changes to required practices, or metrics, for ag water. To register, click here. 

A subcommittee of industry experts and scientists has been reviewing existing LGMA water metrics since August and has proposed changes to existing requirements. A summary of the proposed changes can be found here. 

“Some 30 suggested changes for water use have been recommended by this subcommittee on water,” said Sharan Lanini, of Pacific International Marketing, who chairs the LGMA’ Technical Committee. “The recommendations include updated requirements for drip and furrow irrigation as well as water used for chemical applications. These updates are in addition to enhanced water metrics adopted by the LGMA last year for sprinkler applied water treatments during the last 21 days prior to harvest.”

 Below is a detailed list of additional actions being conducted by the LGMA to strengthen food safety practices:

  • The LGMA has appointed subcommittees to address several topics including water, equipment sanitation, soil amendments/crop inputs, adjacent land use and proximity to animals.
  • These subcommittees include industry experts from both California and Arizona who are systematically reviewing each section of the accepted food safety practices
  • The LGMA’s subcommittee on soil amendments/crop inputs has met several times since December 2019, and is looking to develop more detailed standards to address requirements for existing best practices that include compost applications; other crop and soil inputs; storage, handling and transportation; and inputs applied to neighboring properties.
  • A subcommittee on equipment, packing materials and field sanitation is looking to develop enhanced standards related to harvest equipment, harvest personnel and training that also encompasses human vectored pathogens such as Cyclospora and COVID-19.
  • The public comment period for water has just ended, and the one on harvest related equipment sanitation practices is open through the end of May. Future comment periods will cover the topics of soil amendments/crop inputs and adjacent property/CAFOs. LGMA subcommittees will make recommendations in all of these areas.

The process for updating the LGMA standards is being facilitated by Western Growers, as an independent party to solicit and collect input from all stakeholders. A public website has been created so all interested parties can engage.

A calendar outlining when various food safety topics will be reviewed has been posted.  “The goal is to create unified standards for how leafy greens are farmed using the best science  and expertise available from throughout the leafy greens community,” said Horsfall.  “Water is just the first topic to be addressed. This same process is planned for other areas of the LGMA metrics.” 

Once recommended changes have been finalized through this collaborative process, they will be presented to the LGMA for adoption. Approved updates will become part of the required food safety practices and included in mandatory inspections for LGMA members. 

Horsfall emphasized that government food safety audits conducted through the LGMA program are taking place even with the COVID-19 situation. As usual, every LGMA member will be audited about five times this year, with both announced and unannounced field audits, and every farmer will be audited at least once.

These audits are already more stringent than they were last year. “The real work of implementing food safety practices is being done every day by leafy greens farmers,” said Horsfall. “The role of the LGMA is to unify the industry under one common set of science-based food safety practices.” 

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