Big Updated To Food Safety Practices

California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Takes Action to  Update Food Safety Practices

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board voted last week to accept several updates to required food safety practices for the farming of leafy greens.

“Over 50 recommended changes were unanimously approved by the Board to strengthen food safety requirements for the production of leafy greens in the areas of Farm Water Use and Field/Equipment Sanitation,” explained Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). “These are in addition to several significant changes made by the LGMA less than a year ago.”

Scott Horsfall, CEO LGMA

Horsfall explained 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 has been reviewing the LGMA’s required food safety practices in all areas,” explained Horsfall. “The Subcommittees for Water Use and Field/Equipment Sanitation met numerous times in recent months 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.”

“The LGMA is committed to strengthening required food safety practices throughout our processes,” said Dan Sutton, Chairman of the LGMA and a leafy greens farmer from San Luis Obispo, CA. “We are doing everything possible on our farms to prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks.”

Although many of the 50+ changes strengthen existing language or provide additional guidance and direction for leafy greens food safety, several substantive changes were approved by the LGMA Board last week. Some of the more important changes include:

  1. Adoption of new requirements that ensure the safety of water used during 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 product from coming into contact with the ground during harvest.

Similar changes were also adopted by the Arizona LGMA.

“California and Arizona produce approximately 90% of the leafy greens grown in the U.S.,” said Horsfall. “The LGMA programs ensure a unified set of food safety practices based on the last science are being followed on leafy greens farms in these two states.”

Horsfall explained that 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 leafy greens farms.

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

“Additional updates are forthcoming in 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,” said Horsfall. “We are very grateful to the industry members and scientists who are working diligently as part of the LGMA Subcommittee process to help improve the safety of leafy greens.”

Remote Food Safety Audits Available

 

LGMA Partners with Western Growers to Offer Remote Food Safety Audits During Pandemic

Mandatory government food safety audits of leafy greens farms under the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement are continuing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Announced today by Western Growers (WG) and the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (CA LGMA), is the availability of a new process developed through a collaboration with iFoodDecisionSciences (iFoodDS), that streamlines all verification documents and data for online review by government auditors.

This process will allow the execution of remote audits and has been reviewed and accepted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which has oversight of the LGMA programs and auditors. While in-person inspections may be temporarily limited to protect farm workers, farm office employees and government auditors, much of the LGMA audits are focused on reviewing verification documentation which can be presented in various forms, including large amounts of paperwork.

“As an industry leader in produce safety, Western Growers remains committed to leading produce safety initiatives and solutions,” said Sonia Salas, WG assistant vice president of food safety, science & technology. “In a time where COVID-19 is testing all industries, this new auditing process will support food safety oversight during this pandemic.”

The system was developed over the past few weeks, has been tested and is now available to certified members of the LGMA who are audited an average of five times over the year.

“We were able to use this new process in a real audit situation and it worked extremely well from start to finish,” said Sharan Lanini, Director of Food Safety for Pacific International Marketing and chair of the LGMA’s Technical Committee. “This is a great development in the government audit process.”

“The streamlining of data and verification documents online is a really positive outcome of our ‘new normal,’” said Diane Wetherington, Executive Chair of the iFoodDS board. “The use of iFoodDS software will not only save the auditors time, but it will allow them to more efficiently assess compliance with LGMA food safety metrics through the use of a consistent online verification system.”

“When the LGMA began in 2007, it was the first program of its kind in the nation. As we navigate through these unprecedented circumstances, the LGMA program continues to find innovative ways to move forward and achieve its objective of advancing food safety for leafy greens products,” said Scott Horsfall, Chief Executive Officer of the California LGMA. “This new auditing system is another example of the pioneering spirit of the LGMA and its commitment to find new and better ways to enhance the safety of leafy greens.”

WG has worked with the AZ and CA LGMAs since their inception in 2007 and is currently the facilitator of proposed changes to the LGMA food safety guidelines. WG continues to explore and support new ways to enhance food safety efforts, particularly in these challenging times.

Food Safety on Strawberries

Enhanced Safety Practices on California Strawberry Farms

By Tim Hammerich, with the AgInformation Network of the West

Strawberries are grown year round in the state, so when COVID-19 hit, harvest was in full swing in Southern California. Luckily the industry has developed a strong food safety training program over the past 15 years including print and video materials as well as in-person training.

This allowed them to respond quickly, says California Strawberry Commission Communications Director Carolyn O’Donnell.

“So starting with that baseline of food safety, we were able to build off of two specific pillars that are in that food safety program. And that includes coming to work when you’re well and not coming to work when you’re sick. And the other one is about adequate hand-washing,” said O’Donnell

The commission has leveraged the strong established food safety training program to get the word out about emphasizing these pillars. O’Donnell says they have also been communicating directly with employees.

“We’ve been running on public service announcements on Spanish language radio throughout the central coast of California where strawberries are being grown,” O’Donnell said. And then we’ve been also doing a Saturday morning hosted program for about an hour on our radio station that definitely caters to that farm worker audience. And we’ve brought in a health person every time to talk about the ways to stay healthy, not only on the ranch, but when you’re at home.”

The program, called the “I Pick Safety” program, allows employees to work safely, and consumer to know that their delicious California strawberries are safe to eat.

AgInfo.net is the largest Radio Network in the West with 140 Affiliate Radio Stations.

Important Leafy Greens Webinar Scheduled for May 14

Process Underway to Further Strengthen Food Safety Requirements for Leafy Greens

 

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 10:00 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 as well as other potential food safety issues of concern from a scientific perspective.

 

  • 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; container ID and tracking; 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.”

 

LGMA Audits Continue Through COVID-19 Crisis

LGMA Food Safety is 24/7 365 Day Effort

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) is sharing information to inform retail and foodservice customers, as well as consumers, that activities in place to ensure the safety of leafy greens are fully operational during this rapidly changing COVID-19 situation.

“First and foremost, we want to assure people that LGMA audits conducted by state government personnel are continuing as usual,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the LGMA. “Audits are scheduled for the desert growing areas as the season wraps up there and will move with the harvest to the central valley and central coast regions.”

Horsfall noted that producing, harvesting and shipping of ag products are considered essential services and the requirements being placed by the federal and state governments recognize that food industries must continue to provide healthy food to the nation’s consumers.

“We are asking auditors and members to take all precautions necessary,” he said. “This is a rapidly changing situation, but when it comes to LGMA audits, they are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.If anything changes the LGMA will keep people updated.”

Over 90% of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. are produced under the LGMA food safety program. On average each member company of the LGMA is audited by the government five times per year to verify food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms.

The LGMA has also issued information to several stakeholder audiences explaining the efforts in place under the LGMA program in the area of health and human hygiene.

“While all public health officials are emphasizing there is no evidence that fresh produce or any other food can transmit the virus, we think it’s important that people understand what happens on our farms each and every day,” said Horsfall.

Some of the measures in place through the LGMA to ensure the safety of leafy greens include:

Bathroom and handwashing facilities are required to be present anytime harvest crews are working in leafy greens fields.

Bathrooms must be clean and must always have water, soap, toilet paper, hand drying towels. Hand sanitizers are also provided on many farms.

Workers must wash hands before and after breaks or whenever they use the bathroom.

LGMA member companies who grow leafy greens are required to train workers on the required practices, including how to properly wash their hands. The LGMA provides a hand-washing training that is free to download. Use your smartphone for access: English iOS | Spanish iOS

People who are sick are not allowed to come into contact with leafy greens products.

No one is allowed to consume food, chew tobacco or spit near leafy greens fields.

Harvest equipment and tools must be sanitized regularly.

Member companies of the LGMA are audited by government officials to verify these required practices are being followed. During on-farm visits, government auditors observe activities of work crews to make sure they understand and follow required hygiene practices. The auditors will test workers’ knowledge by speaking to them directly asking questions such as, “Did your employer check with you today to make sure you weren’t feeling ill before you began work?”

Last, but not least, the LGMA is working with the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) and its team of registered dietitians to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables, like leafy greens, and to inform people about the safety measures in place on farms. PBH has just published a post titled Remain Calm and Eat Your Leafy Greens, by Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD, FAND. PBH is sharing this information via its popular ‘Have a Plant’ social media channels.

 

Food Safety In the Produce Supply Chain

Food Safety is Paramount in Produce Industry

By Tim Hammerich, with The Ag Information Network of the West

Food safety is something everyone in the produce industry is concerned about, from growers all the way through the supply chain.

United Fresh Produce Association is a trade group that exists to empower produce industry leaders to join forces to shape sound government policy. California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh caught up with United Fresh President and CEO Tom Stenzel at the association’s Fresh Start Conference in Tucson.

“We’ve got to do a better job in traceability We’ve got to be able to get to the source of these issues right away. You know, our products are grown outside in nature,” said Stenzel. “There’s no kill step. We don’t cook our salads. So we’re probably never going to get to zero, but we’re going to keep getting better in prevention and then we’ve got to do better tracing it back.”

That traceability aspect can be a challenge in complex supply chains like those of some fresh produce. But Stenzel says their members are committed to finding innovative solutions.

“So the grower/shipper community, they’re trying to figure out how do I prevent food safety issues. And we’re learning a lot. Every time there’s an outbreak, as tragic as it is, we learn from it. And that’s really what the growers are trying to do right now, is to take every possible step of precaution in how they use water; or how they use compost,” said Stenzel. Making sure that we’re not contributing to contamination. Wholesalers, retailers, everybody’s got to work together on those things.”

Stenzel said just about every meeting they had around the Fresh Start Conference addressed some aspect of food safety.

Reducing Food Safety Issues in Leafy Greens

Multiple Efforts Underway to Prevent Future Leafy Greens Food Safety Outbreaks

As public health agencies last week called an end to the latest E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce from Salinas, the leafy greens community, government regulators and the entire produce industry continue efforts on multiple fronts to prevent future outbreaks.

“Foodborne illness outbreaks have a significant and devastating impact on consumers who put their trust in our products,” said Scott Horfsall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). “Members of the LGMA take our responsibility to produce safe food very seriously and work to make improvements is well underway.”

Horsfall explained the LGMA has appointed industry experts to serve on a series of new Subcommittees to address specific areas involved in the production of leafy greens.

As an important reminder, when the LGMA makes changes to our requirements, they are implemented on thousands of farms that produce over 90 percent of the leafy greens grown in the U.S.  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.

Numerous additional efforts throughout the produce industry are underway to help understand how future outbreaks can be prevented and contained.

Click here for an action list of efforts underway to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks associated with leafy greens.

Alliance For Food and Farming Hosts Food Safety Media Tour

RDs, Health and Nutrition Writers and Bloggers Join AFF’s Third Produce Safety Tour

The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, hosted its third “Facts, Not Fears” Produce Safety Media Tour for registered dietitians, health and nutrition writers and bloggers on August 19, 20 and 21 in the Salinas Valley. Tour participants visited fruit and vegetable fields as well as engaged with farmers, chefs and scientists with expertise in nutrition and food safety during the three-day event.

“It was another great group and we shared many meaningful conversations and dialogue,” said Tim York, Markon President and AFF Management Board Chair. “Our goal is to provide our guests with a firsthand look at farming and how we strive to provide safe and healthy foods for consumers. But, all of us walk away learning so much from our tour guests, including how we can communicate better with consumers about produce safety.”

Alliance for Food and Farming tour guests are joined by host Tim York of Markon, along with Markon’s food safety team, Dr. Carl Winter of U.C. Davis and tour sponsors Lisa Lochridge, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, Carolyn O’Donnell, California Strawberry Commission and Dr. Bob Whitaker of Produce Marketing Association. (Tour sponsors also included California Giant Berry Farms and First Fruit Marketing)

“The opportunity to build one-on-one relationships with these influencers is so important. Our tour guests have a direct connection to consumers so their efforts to share information about farming and food safety are always impactful,” said Teresa Thorne, AFF Executive Director. “We want to thank our tour partner, Markon, for making this experience possible, as well as the farmers and scientists who provided information and perspectives,” Thorne said.

In addition to the farm tours, the AFF and Markon facilitated a Roundtable discussion where tour guests were joined by farmers and farming companies, scientists, chefs and trade groups for a free-flowing discussion that encompassed food safety, organic and conventional farming practices, produce consumption, food waste, pesticide use, food safety regulations and consumer outreach. “Nothing is off the table during this discussion and everyone is encouraged to ask questions, provide their perspective, agree or disagree,” York says. “This has become among the most popular components of the tour for everyone involved,” York said.

The eight RDs, writers and bloggers involved in the tour provide content and articles to media outlets including, Washington Post, Today’s Dietitian, Shape Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, Dr. Oz, Sirius XM’s Dr. Radio program, CNN, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Glamour, Health Magazine, LA Times and Prevention, among others. The tour participants’ social media properties also reach thousands of followers each day.

“We have seen the benefits of engagement and sharing of AFF social content by these influencers over the last couple years,” York says. “We strongly believe their efforts in mainstream and social media has contributed to a recent and steady decline in one-sided coverage of the annual release of the ‘dirty dozen’ list,’” York says.

The “dirty dozen” list recommends avoidance of popular and healthy produce items based upon scientifically unsupportable claims about pesticide residue levels. When the AFF began its Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign in 2010 to counter inaccurate produce safety messaging, the “dirty dozen” list enjoyed widespread coverage each year in major newspapers, national news broadcasts and online news outlets. “Since 2010, overall coverage of the list release has declined significantly and now only 25% of the coverage is one-sided,” Thorne said.

The goal of the AFF is to provide science-based food safety information about organic and conventional produce so that facts, not fears, can guide consumers’ shopping choices. The cornerstone of the AFF’s outreach efforts is the newly updated safefruitsandveggies.com website, which includes information about farming, nutrition, health, toxicology and risk analysis for consumers, media and nutritionists and dietitians.

“We want to extend our sincere thanks to all of our guests for joining us, sharing their insights and suggestions on how we can all work together to reassure consumers about the safety of produce,” York said.

“We also extend our appreciation and thanks to the California Strawberry Commission, California Giant Berry Farms, First Fruits Marketing, Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Produce Marketing Association for their sponsorship and participation in the AFF’s 2019 tour,” Thorne concluded.

Food Safety Inspections Coming

Operations with More than $500,000 Are First

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Shelly Phillips is with the CDFA’s Produce Safety Program and supervises four inspectors with the eventual hiring of six more. She spoke about what to expect during a food safety inspection of farm operations at the recent Safe Food Alliance Conference in Monterey.

“These will not be surprise inspections. We will be calling and letting growers know that we want to inspect the operation and scheduling an appointment,” Phillips said.

From that point, an inspector will be following up with the farmer with logistic questions such as: “What are you growing?”, “When are you harvesting?”, and “What is the best time in terms of coming out to the operation?”

The goal is to have the inspection be collaborative between the farmer and inspector. It needs to be done during harvesting and handling conditions.

If an operation is unwilling or unresponsive, there could be an unannounced inspection.

“If we have called a grower three or four times and there are no return calls, and we have tried to reschedule multiple times, we may do an unannounced inspection because there might be a reason for the push back,” Phillips explained.

Also, if there are uncorrected produce safety issues, there could be an unannounced follow-up inspection.

“This will happen if we have been out to a farm under an announced inspection and there have been corrective actions that need to be observed, and there needs to be a follow-up; then there could be an unannounced inspection,” Phillips said. “We can also come out in response to a complaint or a foodborne outbreak investigation.”

Arriving On The Farm

“Let’s say the inspector arrives on a Tuesday … his or her identification will be shown, as well as a notice of inspection,” Phillips said. “They will want to speak to someone who is directly in charge. That person will be a farm manager or food safety manager, instead of someone not responsible for anything on a day-to-day basis.”

The inspector will explain the scope of the inspection based on what the grower is doing on the operation.

“If the grower is harvesting or packing, then we will be looking at that. We also want to see the grower training, [and] health and hygiene records.”

There is no set time length for the inspections, as it will depend on the size of the farming operation, as well as what the farm has prepared ahead of time for the inspector. Being prepared means having all food safety records available, and knowing where all water sources are. Also, if there are many observations that need to be corrected, then that could extend the inspection time.

More People Interested in Ag at Food Safety of California Convention

Agriculture Is Noble Work

By Mikenzi Meyers, Contributing Editor

A panel at the recent Food Safety of California Convention gave viewers a glimpse of hope for a brighter future in the industry. The moderator of the panel was Tom Jones, senior director of analytic sciences with the Safe Food Alliance.

Although important topics like food safety and processing were discussed by the panel, Jones found himself most impressed by the audience.

“The number of young people that are interested in agriculture and the food industry really gives you hope for the future,” he said.

Jones also said he was also pleasantly surprised by the implied support from Capitol Hill in Washington. “They are actually quite excited to be involved with agriculture. They think it’s an important or noble thing to be doing that job for their representative in Congress, which is a real shift from even a few years ago,” he explained.

The Safe Food Alliance was founded in 2016 as a sister organization to the DFA of California, a nonprofit trade association that has expanded beyond quality inspections to servicing new commodities. To find out more about the Safe Food Alliance and their services, you can visit their website here.