Tougher safety provisions added to leafy greens agreements in key states

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The Leafy Greens Greens Marketing Agreements in California and Arizona have been amended by their Advisory Boards to require additional safety practices for growing leafy greens such as romaine lettuce in the two states that grow the vast majority of it.

The additional safety measures follow costly and embarrassing outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 normally being associated with cattle that were traced instead to romaine and other products being grown under the LGMAs’ voluntary rules. Between 2017 and 2019, these were the outbreaks of concern:

These multiple state outbreaks sickened nearly 500 over the space of a couple of years, resulting in a handful of deaths and creating the sort of publicity growers and their retail partners eschew.

Details of the new changes were disclosed by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Advisory Board on the organization’s website, saying this:

“Over 50 recommended changes were unanimously approved to strengthen food safety requirements for the production of leafy greens in the areas of farm water use and field/equipment sanitation. These are in addition to several significant changes made by the LGMA less than a year ago. The most recent updates are the first of many more as the LGMA conducts a complete review of all its mandatory food safety practices, or metrics, in the wake of recent outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce.

“A series of subcommittees have been reviewing the LGMA’s required food safety practices in all areas. In recent months. Subcommittees for water use and field/equipment sanitation met numerous times to consider new research, examine findings from outbreak investigations, gather input from food safety experts, and the public before making recommendations to the full LGMA Board last week. This process is being facilitated by Western Growers as part of an open, transparent process.”

Here’s a list of some of the major changes among the 50 changes approved by the LGMA Board:

  1. Adoption of new requirements that ensure the safety of water used during the overhead application of pesticides and crop protection materials. This update is similar to changes approved by the LGMA last year requiring that any water from open sources — such as a canal or reservoir — applied via overhead application must be treated to eliminate pathogens during the previous 21 days before harvest.
  2. Approved enhancements to monitoring requirements for water used in farming leafy greens to ensure that regular water quality tests are conducted and that samples are collected throughout the irrigation systems used in leafy greens fields.
  3. Added language to minimize the risk of water applied via furrow irrigation from coming into contact with any edible portion of the leafy greens plant.
  4. Updated best practices for cleaning harvest equipment, containers, tools, and bathroom facilities in and near leafy greens fields.
  5. New language designed to prevent the cut end of leafy greens products from coming into contact with the ground during harvest.

The Arizona LGMA adopted similar changes.

Approved updates will now be forwarded to the California Department of Food and Agriculture to be incorporated into food safety checklists used by government auditors to verify new practices are being followed on LGMA member farms.

The LGMA officials say the organization will immediately begin educating members on how to comply with the new standards.

Additional updates are expected to follow for the areas of soil amendments/inputs and adjacent land as the Subcommittees assigned to these topic areas are currently meeting to review existing practices. These Subcommittees will be making their recommendations to the LGMA Board in the near future.

Industry members and scientists are working diligently as part of the LGMA subcommittee process to help improve the safety of leafy greens. The LGMA is committed to strengthening required food safety practices throughout our processes and farmers are doing everything possible to prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks.

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