A food safety call to produce buyers



Written by Tim York

This column originally appeared on The Packer

On April 16th the California LGMA Board took decisive action to endorse pre-harvest testing guidance. The guidance recommends pre-harvest testing specifically when leafy greens are being farmed in proximity to animal operations. It’s the intention of the Board to include pre-harvest testing as part of LGMA audit checklist so the government can verify that all LGMA members are in compliance.

This is the first time an entire commodity group will be required to conduct pre-harvest testing.

This is a big deal, but a necessary response to the recent U.S. Food and Drug Administration report on outbreaks associated with lettuce in 2020. The findings and regulatory language used by FDA in this report were nothing short of a warning shot that calls on our industry to do more to stop outbreaks.

And so, we must do more.

Some weeks ago, in the first piece I wrote for The Packer as CEO of the California LGMA, I stressed the need for collaboration with the retail and foodservice buying community noting that we must lean on each other to make needed improvements together. And now, I am asking for your help.

Updating LGMA’s required food safety practices is an involved process that seeks input from scientists, food safety experts and the public. No other entity is capable of making such widespread change as quickly as we can. But it will take some time.

The LGMA is working as quickly as we can to educate members on how to conduct the necessary risk assessments for pre-harvest testing. We’re also working on an updated adjacent land risk assessment tool and, in collaboration with Dr. Trevor Suslow, a pre-harvest testing methodology is being developed. In order for pre-harvest testing to become an official LGMA requirement, it must go through the public input process administered through Western Growers. Our goal is to have that in place as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, the fastest and most efficient means of implementing pre-harvest testing on leafy greens farms is for buyers to require their suppliers to follow the LGMA guidance available here.

Under the LGMA system, buyers have always played an important role when it comes to enforcing food safety practices on leafy greens farms. When buyers demand something of their suppliers, it almost always happens.

So, I am asking the buying community for two very important things to help prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks.

First, we urge buyers to accept and require the LGMA’s pre-harvest testing guidance of all your leafy greens suppliers.

Second, we encourage you to become part of the process to establish LGMA as the standard for leafy greens food safety. In the coming weeks and months, the LGMA will be making several more changes to update and strengthen our practices utilizing input from the FDA and some of the best and brightest minds in the produce industry. We would really like the buying community to be a part of this effort.

The LGMA provides a unique system that establishes and verifies food safety practices for California and Arizona farmers who produce over 90 percent of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. The LGMA is and should be how food safety standards for leafy greens are determined.

When produce buyers require their suppliers to be certified members of the LGMA, they reinforce best practices uniformly on leafy greens farms. Simply put, when buyers support the LGMA, they support a system that offers the best path to reduce incidents of foodborne illness.

Isn’t that what we all want?

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