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.

FDA Releases Possible Factors for 2018 E. Coli Outbreaks

Leafy Greens Industry and Public Were Severely Impacted

By Hank Giclas, Western Growers Sr. Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology

Recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released an environmental assessment that provides an overview of factors that potentially contributed to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli that was implicated in a 2018 multi-state foodborne illness outbreak. The assessment can be found here and includes the background on the outbreak; the environmental team approach; and factors potentially contributing to the introduction and spread of E. coli; along with recommendations for the prevention E. coli in leafy greens.

FDA recommends that growers and processors of leafy greens:

  • assure that all agricultural water (water that directly contacts the harvestable portion of the crop) used by growers is safe and adequate for its intended use (including agricultural water used for application of crop protection chemicals);
  • assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water or leafy greens crops directly (e.g. nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting facility);
  • verify that food safety procedures, policies, and practices, including supplier controls for fresh-cut processors, are developed and consistently implemented on farms (both domestic and foreign) and in fresh-cut produce manufacturing/processing food facilities to minimize the potential for contamination and/or spread of human pathogens;
  • when a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing or processing environment, in agricultural inputs (e.g., agricultural water), in raw agricultural commodities or in fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce, a root cause analysis should be performed to determine the likely source of the contamination, if prevention measures have failed, and whether additional measures are needed to prevent a reoccurrence; and
  • Local in-depth knowledge and actions are critical in helping resolve potential routes of contamination of leafy greens in the Yuma growing region, including Imperial County and Yuma County, moving forward. FDA urges other government and non-government entities, produce growers and trade associations in Yuma and Imperial Counties to further explore possible source(s) and route(s) of contamination associated with the outbreak pathogen and with other foodborne pathogens of public health significance. This information is critical to developing and implementing short- and long-term remediation measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak associated with leafy greens or other fresh produce commodities.

The findings in the Environmental Assessment appear to provide little new information but will be closely reviewed by Western Growers and others as part of our industry’s ongoing efforts to ensure food safety.

Immediately after the outbreak, Western Growers collaborated with the leafy greens industry to help lead a task force that would assess the source of the outbreak, as well as develop recommendations to prevent future outbreaks. While sources of contamination remain uncertain, the task force made concrete recommendations to industry for assuring water is safe and adequate, assessing and mitigating risk from adjacent land uses as well as others to address risks from equipment and climatic conditions.  These recommendations go well beyond the requirements of the FDA’s own Produce Safety Rule and have already been incorporated into the California and Arizona LGMA requirements. State auditors are now charged with verifying adherence to these new controls through announced and un-announced audits that occur throughout the seasons. The industry is furthering its efforts to learn more including through research guided by respected entities such as the Center for Produce Safety and working directly with California and Arizona academic teams. There is a strong and broad commitment to continually work to improve our food safety system.

Other related information posted by FDA includes:

Steve Koike on Resistant Cultivars

The Search for Resistant Cultivars

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

In the second part of our series with Steve Koike, plant pathology farm advisor for UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension in Monterey County, the focus is on the critically needed research on resistant cultivars. Koike, who has focused his research since 1989 primarily on the understanding of disease systems and the investigation of new methods of disease control, said, “The role or the need for resistant cultivars is tremendous.”

“Some good case studies of resistant cultivar research address soil-born problems on lettuce,” Koike explained. “For example, Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt on lettuce could be managed lightly; but in order to overcome those diseases, resistant lettuce varieties need to be in place.”

Steve Koike, UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.
Steve Koike, UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.

“First discovered in 1995 on the Central Coast,” said Koike, “Verticillium wilt has the potential to infect and damage numerous different crops. And although Fusarium wilt was typically unseen in the San Joaquin Valley, it has recently begun to appear on the Central Coast.”

Continued improvement of management techniques upon discovering initial disease symptoms is necessary, according to Koike. “Symptoms of the disease usually appear on the lower leaves of plants, around the edges, and the areas between the veins can turn a yellowish-brown.”

“Strawberries currently have three really important disease pressures state-wide: Verticillium wilt, Macrophomina (charcoal rot) and Fusarium wilt,” Koike commented. “Even the fumigation tools we have are not cleaning them up 100 percent, so we have problems.”

“We will continue to have problems,” Koike elaborated, “until there are truly resistant strawberry varieties to those pathogens. Plant breeders understand that IPM management of these diseases is so dependent on developing resistant varieties,” he said, “but we’re not there yet. We do not yet have truly resistant lettuce or strawberry varieties out in the field,” Koike said.

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Koike and his fellow researchers discovered a new race of the downey mildew pathogen in spinach that has been designated race 16. While there are some varieties that are supposedly resistant to race 16, Koike noted that there is still more research to be done.

To read the first part of our series on Downey Mildew, click here.