Romaine Outbreak Is Declared Over

California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Steps Up Efforts to Improve Safety

 

By April Ward, Leafy Green Marketing Agreement

On January 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared e. Coli outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas, CA region over and the agencies have lifted the consumer advisory. In a statement, the FDA said there is no longer a need for consumers to avoid romaine lettuce from Salinas.

“The industry is enforcing upon themselves even more stringent food safety requirements than were previously in place through the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

The statement noted that FDA and CDC have been tracking three outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce. Yesterday’s statement reads as follows: “Federal health officials are declaring two multi-state romaine lettuce outbreaks over. One of the outbreaks sickened 167 people in 27 states. The other outbreak, linked to Fresh Express salad kits, sickened 10 people in five states. There was also a third outbreak in Washington State that sickened 11 people. This outbreak has also been declared over.”

Scott Horsfall, CEO LGMA

Since the consumer advisory was first issued on November 21, 2019 California leafy greens farmers have taken action to prevent future outbreaks.

“The industry is enforcing upon themselves even more stringent food safety requirements than were previously in place through the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA), a food safety program established in 2007 to address food safety issues concerning leafy greens.

“We need to prevent this from happening again,” said Steve Church of Church Brothers, a leading producer of romaine lettuce and a member of the Board of the California LGMA. “These outbreaks are devastating to our industry as well as to consumers and they absolutely must stop.”

At a recent meeting of the LGMA, leaders from throughout the California leafy greens community agreed it is industry’s responsibility to strengthen their mandatory food safety practices even further.

“We have to take control of our own destiny,” said Dan Sutton, a leafy greens producer who serves as Chairman of the LGMA. “The LGMA exists to establish food safety standards for farming leafy greens. We need a focused industry-wide effort to figure out what’s happening in the environment where we farm. The members of the LGMA are committed to making real changes to improve the safety of our product.”

The LGMA acknowledged all of the work being done by FDA to help determine the exact cause of recent outbreaks. Details of the investigation are outlined in yesterday’s statement but, to date, investigators have been unable to determine the source of the outbreaks.

According to the FDA, “Our investigation is ongoing, and we are doing everything possible to find the source or sources of contamination. The investigation into how this contamination occurred is important, so romaine growers can implement measures that will prevent future contamination and illnesses.”

“The leafy greens community is extremely motivated to get to the bottom of this and we want to be more involved,” said Jan Berk of San Miguel Produce who serves as vice-chairman of the LGMA. “The FDA investigators are not farmers. They don’t know what’s going on in our fields the way we do. We are the ones who need to fix this.”

Work is already underway to do just that.

“The LGMA is currently conducting a systematic overhaul of the food safety practices included in our program,” explained Horsfall. “We’re working with our industry partner Western Growers to conduct an open, transparent review of the required food safety practices under the LGMA. We will be bringing in outside expertise so that we can incorporate new knowledge and research.”

Additionally, a special meeting hosted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is being planned for February 4 in Salinas. Growers are being invited to participate in a discussion about research opportunities available through a broad study that will monitor environmental conditions in California that may be contributing to outbreaks.

“Our goal is to work in conjunction with leafy greens growers and with the U.S. FDA to resolve the problems that continue to impact romaine,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The LGMA and the entire leafy greens industry has been extremely cooperative in these efforts. We all want to see an end to these outbreaks so that consumers can have confidence in eating leafy greens. We owe this to our consumers and to our growers.”

Horsfall emphasized that actions being taken by the LGMA demonstrate the industry’s commitment to making changes in their food safety practices.

“The benefit of the LGMA system is that when we make changes to our requirements, they are implemented on thousands of farms that produce over 90 percent of leafy greens grown in the U.S.,” he said. “Government auditors will then verify growers are following the new practices through mandatory government audits. No other food safety program in the world has this capability.”

Steve Patricio Honored for Significant Contributions to Agriculture

Western Growers will award Patricio the prestigious 2018 Award of Honor on October 30

News Release Edited by Patrick Cavanaugh

Western Growers will honor Steve Patricio, whose visionary leadership has advanced the agricultural industry by leaps and bounds, with the 2018 Award of Honor. The Award of Honor is Western Growers’ highest recognition of industry achievement and is given to individuals who have contributed extensively to the agricultural community.

“Steve has been a tireless advocate for agriculture, and his ability to turn some of the most tumultuous challenges that our industry has faced over the past few decades into opportunities is unmatched,” said Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. “He has already left a tremendous legacy as someone who shoulders the responsibility of igniting change that advances the industry as a whole.”

Steve Patricio to be Honored by Western Growers Association

Patricio, the Chief Financial Officer of Westside Produce, based in Los Banos, is being recognized for his immeasurable leadership and contribution to the agricultural industry, making significant advancements in food safety and the protection of public health. Steve led the creation of the first-ever mandatory food safety compliance program for the California cantaloupe industry, as well as helped raise millions of dollars to fund research geared toward preventing foodborne illness. He also played an integral role in the establishment of the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements, which today have become the model for produce safety and accountability.

“When you look at the success of California agriculture, Steve is a true representative of why the ag community is as successful as it is today,” said Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of the Center for Produce Safety. “He truly embodies passion and proactivity, and his commitment to food safety to benefit both the consumer and industry is unlike any other.”

Patricio’s tenacity does not just stop at food safety. Patricio has spent countless hours throughout his 45-year tenure in the industry advocating for a sustainable supply of water for farmers to grow the food that feeds the state, nation, and world. He has taken every opportunity, as he did when he was asked to join former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at the San Luis Reservoir, to call attention to the need for more surface water storage and stress the need for a comprehensive water solution. Furthermore, Patricio launched the industry’s first orientation program for agribusinesses that focused exclusively on water rights.

“Steve has one of the brightest minds and quickest wit in the industry,” said Bob Gray, past chairman of Western Growers and former president/CEO of California Ag Leadership Foundation. “He is a contributor of substance, and the expertise and competence he has brought regarding food safety and water have made major impacts for the industry.”

A Los Banos-native, Patricio is deeply involved in the community and industry. He has served as chairman for Western Growers, Center for Produce Safety, California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, and Monrovia Nursery Company. He has also held leadership positions at Western Growers Assurance Trust, Monsanto Vegetable Seeds Advisory Council and the Produce Marketing Association.

“I was speechless when I found out I was selected for this award,” Patricio said. “I never thought that, at the end of it all, I would be a farmer or involved in this honorable and wonderful world that I am so engaged in today. I often tell youth that your career chooses you, and because I followed the path life decided to take me on, I am proud to say that I am a farmer. I couldn’t imagine being in any other industry.”

Patricio’s accomplishments and passion for shaping the ag industry will be recognized at the Award of Honor Dinner Gala at the Western Growers Annual Meeting on October 30 in Palm Desert, CA.  There, Patricio will be honored by his peers, friends, and family. To attend the ceremony, visit http://www.wgannualmeeting.com/.

LGMA Partners with Stop Foodborne Illness Group

Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Aids Decline in Citations

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
Scott Horsfall, CEO of LGMA

After a severe E. coli outbreak in 2006, California farmers created the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) in 2007 to help prevent foodborne illness. Scott Horsfall, LGMA CEO, addressed the critical role LGMA currently plays in California agriculture, “If you are going to be in the leafy greens business, in particular, you are going to have to invest in what it takes to put a food safety program in place.”

“LGMA has partnered with a group called Stop Foodborne Illness, a national nonprofit, public health organization dedicated both to the prevention of illness and death from foodborne pathogens and to its victims. These two groups collaborated to create a video that is used in all training workshops. The video not only tells them why food safety is important, it shows them.”

Citations for foodborne pathogens in recent years have declined. Most of the citations are noted as minor infractions or minor deviations.

“They are not threatening public health; sometimes they indicate an oversight in having some documentation on hand, or something along those lines,” Horsfall said.

“Yet, there are still a handful of major deviations that are more significant and are treated differently,” Horsfall said. “Auditors are required to go back out, but if [the situation] is flagrant, they will go back out within a week to make sure that all corrective actions that were submitted are actually put in place.”



Links:

California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA)

Stop Foodborne Illness

 

Farmers Appreciate Leafy Green Marketing Agreement

Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Raises Bar

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

The Leafy Green Marketing Agreement took huge steps in the advancement of food safety.

Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California of the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, said, “In 2007, there had never been government inspectors on the farm on a routine basis related to food safety.”

Many other regulators such as the Department of Public Health would often check in on businesses. However, there had never been a routine food safety oversight program on the farm.

Farmers joined this agreement voluntarily. “All of these companies that have joined, and been in the program since 2007, they do so voluntarily, and they pay the freight,” Horsfall said. This raises the bar for food safety and provides value to the industry.

Farmers, who were wary at first, came back to Horsfall saying, “They sleep better at night knowing that they’ve got this program in place, that the auditors are going to be there.”

The California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement continues to improve. Every year, the numbers are studied to see what areas have a continuing problem.

“We have used that to decide what to create in a training program. We hope that we’re helping the industry to better comply with these standards as we go along too, by offering the training,” Horsfall said.

For more information, visit the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement web page.