FDA Deputy Commissioner Reviews New Requirements for California Irrigation Water



Written by Scott Horsfall

Efforts by the leafy greens industry to strengthen mandatory food safety requirements for irrigation water were recently seen firsthand by U.S. Food and Drug Administration Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy & Response Frank Yiannas. As part of a visit to California’s Salinas Valley last week, Yiannas expressed approval of the efforts made by the LGMA and its members to improve the safety of water used in farming leafy greens.

Photo of participants on farm tour
From LinkedIN: FDA Deputy Commissioner Frank Yiannis, along with California Department of Food and Agriculture staff view the new food safety standards recently put into place by the leafy greens industry in California.

This is meaningful for several reasons.

First, in the aftermath of E. coli outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce last year, the FDA had called upon the leafy greens industry to take action to reduce foodborne illnesses caused by leafy greens. And, because Yiannas was formerly Vice President of Food Safety for Wal Mart, he brings to his position at FDA the perspective of a produce buyer. His positive reaction to changes implemented by the LGMA is an indication that other retail and foodservice buyers will likely feel the same way.

Yiannas’ opinion is also important because he is a noted author and one of the world’s leading experts on food safety. Throughout his career, he’s been recognized for his role in elevating food safety standards and building effective food safety management systems based on modern science and risk-based prevention principles. So, the fact that he was pleased with the LGMA’s response to the recent outbreaks is impressive.

During the day we spent with Yiannas, we were able to show him first-hand the new, more stringent practices to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing leafy greens that have been adopted by the LGMA. Mission Ranches hosted a demonstration of how water is sampled according to LGMA metrics and also showed an example of their water treatment operations.

CDFA’s Inspection Services Division hosted the tour and Director Natalie Krout-Greenburg, Branch Chief Steve Patton both participated. LGMA auditor Heather Wick demonstrated for the FDA team how new irrigation water requirements are being verified through the LGMA’s mandatory government audits.

The day began with a meeting with Grower Shipper Association of Central California President Chris Valadez and Vice President of Policy and Communications Abby Taylor-Silva for a general discussion of leafy greens food safety issues. In addition to the food safety practices demonstration at Mission Ranches, the tour group visited a local water treatment facility and a composting operation. Later in the day, a ‘meet and greet. was held at a local restaurant so that several other industry members could have a chance to talk with Yiannas.

We are very grateful to Frank Yiannas and the entire FDA team for making the trip to Salinas to learn more about the LGMA’s new required practices and to see them in action. The California leafy greens community understands our obligation to producing safe leafy greens. This is a responsibility we share with public health agencies like FDA and we welcome the opportunity to work with government to deliver on our promise of safe leafy greens for consumers.

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