Consumer Protection Is Top Priority for LGMA

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.

Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Issues New Food Safety Guideline

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.

For more on the new regulations, check out this YouTube video.

Heat Streak and Leafy Greens

Frank Ratto on Heat Streak and Leafy Greens

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

With a high spike in temperatures in the Central Valley, growers of leafy green vegetables are concerned about the quality of their products. Frank Ratto, vice president of marketing for Ratto Bros., a diversified century-old vegetable operation based in Stanislaus County, said that although the heat streak can cause internal burns in leafy green vegetables, he is confident that, with proper management, their leafy greens will be all right.

“The summer leafy green vegetable supply is always pretty good,” Ratto said, “so prices are very stable going into the fall. But, two or three days of a heat wave like the one we’re having right now can cause tremendous damage and escalate the price of our products. That may happen and we could be a victim or we could be a beneficiary.”

Given the heat wave, Ratto said Napa cabbage growers, in particular, are facing some difficulties. “Napa cabbage does not like heat,” he said, “because it will suffer from a lot of internal burns. Many coastal growers are having issues with it, so demand is tight and supplies are very low.”Ratto Bros Logo

Regarding vegetable prices, Ratto said that the price of cilantro was as high as $50 per box for the last three weeks, “but now it’s coming down to the $25 zone. Mexico had some supply issues, but it looks like they’re catching up, and supplies are improving, and the price is going down.”

Other leafy greens such as leaf lettuces, according to Ratto, are in good supply and quality right now.

Ratto said Ratto Bros. has expanded their organic products to include red and La Cinato kale; red, green, and rainbow Swiss chard; leaks; and collard and mustard greens,” among others.

“We’re trying to expand our organic offerings as more people look for organics in the store,” Ratto continued. “As growers, we know that both conventional and organics are healthy and nutritious—and we don’t really see a difference—but we give the consumer what they want. As long as everybody gets healthy, nutritious food, that’s all we care about.”