SACRAMENTO, CA - With each day the shutdown of the government continues, more and more questions are arising about how those of us in the produce industry will be affected—primarily in regard to food safety and the recent romaine outbreaks. Here to answer those questions and wave the all-clear is the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA). CEO Scott Horsfall and Chairman Steve Church joined in on the discussion.
“Government foods safety audits of leafy greens fields in the southern desert areas of California and Yuma, Arizona, are continuing as usual,” Horsfall confirmed. “These efforts are not impacted by the current government shutdown and, the leafy greens community continues to work diligently to protect public health.”
I repeat, the shutdown is not having an impact on efforts to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks on their farms, and leafy greens producers want consumers to know. And in truth, the industry has actually significantly stepped up efforts to improve leafy greens safety in response to the recent romaine outbreaks. All of us in produce remember last spring’s E. coli outbreak impacting romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, and following that crisis, the LGMA added additional requirements to its program that call for enhanced irrigation water testing and increased buffers between large animal operations and leafy greens farms.
“The audits are conducted by government officials employed by the state departments of agriculture in California and Arizona who are not associated with the current federal government shutdown. This means that government audits are regularly taking place in leafy greens fields to verify farmers are following all 150 food safety checkpoints that are part of each LGMA audit. Each member of the LGMA is audited an average of five times during the year,” explained Horsfall. “These new requirements are part of the government audits taking place today.”
Horsfall added that the industry is continuing to examine its practices, and a group of industry experts is currently reviewing existing food safety practices—particularly those involving water testing—so that additional safeguards can be added to the program.
“The leafy greens community is fully committed to preventing future foodborne illness outbreaks. The LGMA program was created as a mechanism to enforce food safety practices throughout the industry,” added Church. “No one wants to prevent outbreaks associated with leafy greens more than we do. These recent outbreaks have been tragic for the people impacted by illnesses and costly to producers and our retail and foodservice customers. We are working as hard as we can to prevent these kinds of outbreaks from ever happening again.”
As a fellow advocate for the produce industry, I commend the LGMA and other stakeholders for all their hard work in fighting for food safety. As more information continues to roll out on how the government shutdown will impact the fresh produce industry, AndNowUKnow will provide you with the latest.