Work Underway to Further Strengthen Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens



Written by Scott Horsfall

While we‘ve all been consumed in recent weeks with challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, much is taking place with respect to strengthening the food safety requirements for leafy greens.

First and foremost, California leafy greens farmers are hard at work every day implementing new more stringent standards food safety practices on their farms to protect consumers and prevent future outbreaks. These practices include enhanced requirements adopted by the LGMA last year for sprinkler applied treatment of irrigation water during the last 21 days prior to harvest.

Since August, the LGMA has been focused on further strengthening requirements for ag water use. Under a new process created to review and update food safety practices for farming leafy greens, the first in a series of webinars is being held May 14 at 10:00 to gather input on proposed changes to required practices, or metrics, for ag water. To register, click here.

Some 30 suggested changes for water use have been recommended by an LGMA subcommittee on water. These recommendations include updated requirements for drip and furrow irrigation as well as updates to water used for chemical applications. A summary of the proposed changes can be found here.

In addition to water, LGMA subcommittees have been formed to address other topics including equipment sanitation, soil amendments/crop inputs, adjacent land use and proximity to animals. These subcommittees include industry experts from California and Arizona who are systematically reviewing each section of the LGMA food safety practices and other potential food safety issues of concern from a scientific perspective.

Examples of some of the work being done by the subcommittees include the following:

  • A Soil Amendments/Crop Inputs Subcomittee has met several times since December. They are looking at more detailed standards to address best practices that include compost applications; other crop and soil inputs; storage, handling and transportation; container ID and tracking; and inputs applied to neighboring properties.
  • An Equipment, Packing Materials and Field Sanitation Subcommittee is looking to develop enhanced standards related to harvest equipment, harvest personnel and training that also encompass human vectored pathogens such as Cyclospora and COVID-19.

The process for updating the LGMA standards is being facilitated by Western Growers, as an independent party to solicit and collect input from all stakeholders. A public website has been created so all interested parties can engage. A calendar outlining when various food safety topics will be reviewed has been posted.

The goal is to create unified standards for how leafy greens are farmed using the best science and expertise available from throughout the leafy greens community. Water is just the first topic to be addressed. This same process is planned for other areas of the LGMA metrics.

Under the Western Growers process, a public comment period for water has just ended, and the one on harvest related equipment sanitation practices is open through the end of May. Future comment periods will cover the topics of soil amendments/crop inputs and adjacent property/CAFOs. LGMA subcommittees will make recommendations in all of these areas.

Once recommended changes have been finalized through this collaborative effort, they will be presented to the LGMA for adoption. Approved updates will become part of the required food safety practices and included in mandatory inspections for LGMA members.

We welcome input from all stakeholders to help establish the best food safety practices for leafy greens and we encourage people to visit the Western Growers Leafy Greens Guidance website to review recommended changes and participate in important webinars like the one being held for water this week.

In the meantime, we want to emphasize that government food safety audits conducted through the LGMA program are taking place even with the COVID-19 situation. As usual, every LGMA member will be audited about five times this year, with both announced and unannounced field audits, and every farmer will be audited at least once. These audits are already more stringent than they were last year.

The real work of implementing food safety practices is being done every day by leafy greens farmers. The role of the LGMA is to unify the industry under one common set of science-based food safety practices.

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