New LGMA Irrigation Requirements Mean Heightened Food Safety Measures
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
As consumer protection continues to be a number one priority for producers, main pathogen routes are of the utmost importance for guaranteeing safety. The California Leafy Green Marketing Agency (LGMA) is a program that works to continually keep the lettuce industry safe and maintain confidence in food safety programs—but as pathogens begin to evolve, it takes a team effort to combat future threats.
Mike Villaneva, LGMA technical director, told California Ag Today, “It’s been a tough 18 months, and it’s the challenge with these outbreaks … we never really have a good answer about what happened and how it happened.”
In the leafy greens industry, water becomes a focal point in pathogen prevention. “We’ve got 12 years of testing water, and we’re pretty confident of water in the deep wells along the Central Coast, but down south is a different ballgame—that’s open surface water,” Villaneva said.
On April 19th, the LGMA board met and voted to strengthen mandatory food safety practices required on farms. One facet included prohibiting overhead irrigation 21 days prior to harvest unless the water is sanitized.
“They’re looking at some other potential testing and data that could lower that down to 14, but right now they’re sticking with the 21 overhead,” Villaneva said.
The California Leafy Green Marketing Agency continues to show their commitment to ensuring a safe, stable food supply through foodborne illness prevention. More information about the program can be found on their website at www.lgma.ca.gov.
New, More Stringent Food Safety Practices Adopted to Prevent Outbreaks
By April Ward, LGMA Communications Director
The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board met April 19 and voted to strengthen mandatory food safety practices required on farms.
This means that every box of leafy greens placed into commerce by a certified LGMA member will soon be produced under new, more stringent requirements that are designed to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing leafy greens. The updates include specific directives such as no longer allowing the use of untreated surface water for overhead irrigation of leafy greens prior to harvest.
The LGMA program has always required growers to test their water because it can be a carrier of pathogens. But the new requirements now include additional safeguards that ensure farmers categorize the source of the water; consider how and when water is applied to the crop; conduct testing to assure the water is safe for the intended use; sanitize water if necessary; and verify that all of the above precautions have been taken
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. Clues pointed to irrigation water from sources such as canals and reservoirs as a possible cause of the both the November outbreak and the one associated with romaine from Yuma last spring.
Government and the produce industry, in general, looked to the LGMA as the way to improve the safety of leafy greens. The leafy greens industry group, facilitated by Western Growers, has been working with industry members, growers and members of the academic community to fashion new and more stringent requirements for agricultural water use. And, in fact, the actions taken by the LGMA Board have effectively changed the way 99 percent of the leafy greens in California are farmed.
The LGMA will begin immediately to make sure everyone in the leafy greens community understands how to comply with the new requirements. The updated LGMA Food Safety Practices document is available on our website here. Additional information on specific changes to the LGMA food safety practices will be provided in the coming weeks and dates for workshops and webinars for both leafy greens industry members and the buying trade will be scheduled soon.
The LGMA and its members have an obligation to produce safe leafy greens. We are very aware of the tragic impacts a foodborne illness can have on consumers, our customers, and our entire industry. We are all passionately committed to producing the safest leafy greens possible. The LGMA will continue to make changes to as needed to strengthen the food safety requirements for leafy greens.
By Scott Horsfall, CEO of Leafy Green Marketing Agreement
Reprinted from the LGMA Website
CDFA announced recently the creation of a new unit within its Inspection Services Division which will be responsible for educating California produce farmers about new Produce Safety Rule regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act and for conducting routine on-farm inspections of California produce farms to verify they are in compliance.
According to a CDFA press release, this new unit, called the Produce SafetyProgram, will spend 2018 educating California’s produce industry about the requirements of the Produce Safety Rule. On-farm inspections will not take place until 2019. At that time, the Produce Safety Program will begin conducting inspections of California produce farms on behalf of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Produce Safety Program inspectors are employees of CDFA, but are credentialed by the FDA and thus have special training and education. The CDFA is working collaboratively with FDA to implement Produce Safety Rule regulations, as are State Departments of Agriculture throughout the country.
The new requirements of the Produce Safety Rule became mandatory throughout the nation on January 26th for farms designated as “large” which means they have $500,000 or more in annual sales. Most farms who grow leafy greens under the LGMA would be characterized as large under this definition. Smaller farms will be phased in over the next few years. In total, it’s estimated there are some 20,000 fruit, vegetable and nut farms in California that will fall under the Produce Safety Rule.
CDFA emphasizes it will be a big job and has stated it will need to work closely with the California produce industry to achieve its goal of 100% compliance with the Produce Safety Rule on California Farms.
The LGMA has been working closely with both the U.S. FDA and CDFA to ensure our food safety program works in conjunction with efforts to enforce the Produce Safety Rule.
Last August, the LGMA Board approved revised metrics so that our required food safety practices are in full compliance with the Produce Safety Rule. We have since received confirmation from FDA that these revised metrics do indeed align with the requirements of the new regulations. In many cases, the LGMA metrics continue to go beyond what is required by FDA. Working from the revised metrics, CDFA will begin using an updated audit checklist that is Produce Safety Rule-compliant checklist for all LGMA government audits beginning April 1.
Because of these actions, CDFA has informed us that California farms who grow leafy greens for certified LGMA members will be considered compliant with the Produce Safety Rule.
More details will be coming as we get closer to April 1, when the LGMA’s new compliance year begins. In the meantime, we want LGMA members to know that FDA will be able to validate compliance with the Produce Safety Rule on farms who grow your leafy greens without the need for additional and duplicative inspections when Produce Safety Program begins inspecting farms in 2019. CDFA has recognized the efforts of the LGMA to establish a culture of food safety on the farm and they acknowledge that mandatory government audits are already taking place on California leafy greens farms who operate under the LGMA.
As a reminder, under the LGMA program, every handler-member continues to be audited by the government an average of five times over the course of the year—with one unannounced audit—and every farmer is audited at least once per year.
This recognition by government agencies at FDA and CDFA is welcome news to the LGMA, our members and produce buyers. The LGMA is pleased to see the addition of this new unit at CDFA to provide government inspections throughout California’s produce industry. And we look forward to additional oversight provided by the Produce Safety Program to further validate that leafy greens are being farmed safely.
California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Now 10 Years Old
By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
After a severe E.coli outbreak nearly a decade ago, California took steps in ensuring the safety of consumers through the creation of the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (LGMA). We met with Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, which is managed by the CDFA, to talk about the topic.
“The Marketing Agreement was actually created February of 2007. The outbreak was in the fall of 2006 and then, for a few months, the industry worked with the government to figure out what to do, and they created this Marketing Agreement,” Horsfall said. “The Marketing Agreement was moving fast and in the right direction. The leaders of the industry came together or appointed to that initial board of directors. With the little staff, it was those people and their internal staffs who did all the heavy lifting.”
The outbreak was the driving force behind the creation of this Marketing Agreement.
“They saw the impact that the tragic outbreak had on businesses, consumers, and on individuals. The will was there on the part of the industry to do something quickly and I think they brought in the people who had the expertise,” Horsfall said. “The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) were there with the marketing agreement option. Also there was the Western Grower’s Association, Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh. They were all putting up their best people to figuring out a solution.”
UC Davis Postharvest Course Covers Food Loss, Produce Handling
By Lauren Dutra, Associate Editor
The 38th annual Postharvest Technology of Horticultural Crops Short Course concluded TODAY, June 24 at UC Davis. Presented by Beth Mitcham, director of the Postharvest Technology Center, the course focused on postharvest produce quality and safety.
“This class provided a really broad overview of all the topics that are relevant for postharvest handling of produce, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, and also ornamentals,” said Mitcham. “We cover the crops that are grown in California, but because our audience includes a lot of people from around the world who want to learn the basics about postharvest handling, we also cover a few crops that aren’t grown in California for commercial purposes. Furthermore,”she noted, “we also address some of the latest technologies that are available for maintaining excellent quality,”
Maintaining a good cold chain throughout the entire shipping line is critical, according to Mitcham. “We talk a lot about temperature,” she elaborated. “In fact, we tell students the three most important things about postharvest biology and technology are: temperature, temperature and temperature. We discussed many other technologies during the week, but they are secondary to good temperature management,” she noted.
Mitcham also mentioned food waste and how to control it. “So much effort goes into growing the crop, which includes harvesting at the prime of ripeness and getting it in the pre-cooler, on the trucks and to the market. But, people buy it, put it in their refrigerator and then don’t eat it. It goes bad and they waste it. It does happen,” said Mitcham. “Our goal is to try to make the product as hearty as possible while retaining really good flavor so it can last in your refrigerator as long as possible but also so people want to eat it, so hopefully it doesn’t sit in there and degrade.”
In reducing postharvest losses, Mitcham commented on the dissonance between addressing postharvest flavor and consumer satisfaction, “In some ways they are two opposite ends of the spectrum; some of the things we do to reduce losses are counter to delivering good flavor to consumers,” she said. “We really need to do both, and that was a big part of our message this week.”