All Hands On Deck: Efforts Underway to Prevent Future Outbreaks



Written by April Ward

As public health agencies last week called an end to the latest E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce from Salinas, the leafy greens community, government regulators and the entire produce industry continue efforts on multiple fronts to prevent future outbreaks.

Foodborne illness outbreaks have a significant and devastating impact not just on consumers who put their trust in our products, but for the leafy greens community and our valued retail and foodservice customers as well. LGMA members take our responsibility to produce safe food very seriously and work to make improvements is well underway.

Last spring, the LGMA dramatically strengthened required practices concerning the use of overhead irrigation water and extended minimum buffer zones between leafy greens farms and animal feeding operations. This past December, LGMA leadership met and agreed to strengthen mandatory food safety practices even further.

Toward this end, the LGMA has appointed industry experts to serve on a series of new Subcommittees to address specific areas involved in the production of leafy greens. The subcommittees concerned with agriculture water and soil amendments have already met several times, and a subcommittee on the sanitation of equipment has been organized through the Arizona LGMA. Other subcommittees are being formed to focus on soil CAFOs and other key subjects.

As an important reminder, when the LGMA makes changes to our requirements, they are implemented on thousands of farms that produce over 90% of the leafy greens grown in the U.S. Government auditors will then verify growers are following the new practices through mandatory government audits. No other food safety program in the world has this capability.

The process of reviewing and updating LGMA’s metrics (mandatory food safety practices) is being facilitated by our industry partner, Western Growers. Their job is to ensure new food safety practices reflect the most recent research and scientific information and the standards are reviewed in an open and transparent process with input from all stakeholders.

Research plays an important role in all our work. We absolutely must know more about why and how our products are being exposed to pathogens in the environment. A few notable projects with support from the U.S. FDA are underway to monitor and collect data in Arizona and California growing regions. We encourage leafy greens industry members to attend an important Townhall Meeting organized by CDFA and scheduled for February 4 from 9 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s office to learn more about a broad study that will monitor environmental conditions in California that may be contributing to outbreaks.

Numerous additional efforts throughout the produce industry are underway to help us learn how future outbreaks can be prevented and contained. The leafy greens industry has strong support from national organizations like the Produce Marketing Association and United Fresh Produce Association along with various regional associations.

The LGMA is also reaching out to a group of leading retail and foodservice buyers who have formed a coalition aimed at improving the produce industry’s ability to more quickly trace products involved in outbreaks to their source.

And, of course, we continue to work in conjunction with federal and state regulators.

There is an incredible amount of focus throughout the entire produce supply chain on improving the safety of leafy greens. This is, without question, the most important issue on everyone’s mind.

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