Salinas vegetable growers talk food safety with Canadians
SALINAS, Calif. — Canada geese and California lettuce don’t mix.
SALINAS, Calif. — Canada geese and California lettuce don’t mix. That’s one of the messages Canadian journalists, dieticians and bloggers took home from a two-day visit to the Salinas Valley sponsored by the Leafy Greens Marketing Association, which certifies all U.S. lettuce shipments entering Canada. Chief executive officer Scott Horsfall said Canada receives 86% of U.S. lettuce exports. Every grower on the tour had a tale of finding the big messy birds in their fields, either during the required pre-harvest inspection or at the start of harvest. Everyone involved, from the boss to the newest employee, knows what to do — cordon off the area around the mess and destroy any lettuce that’s already been harvested in the area. “With the LGMA standardizing procedures, it’s easier to train employees and they’re much more aware of food safety than ever before,” said Rodney Braga, third-generation owner of Braga Ranch in Soledad, as a crew trimmed, bagged and boxed organic romaine lettuce in the field. When one of his crews dumped a field of produce in the middle of the night because of geese, Braga called the shipper in the morning. “When we explained why we couldn’t fill their order, the shippers said ‘Fantastic!’” Braga said. “A few years ago they wouldn’t want to hear any excuses, and our crews wouldn’t think they had the authority to dump produce.” At the 100-acre salad greens and specialty vegetable Faurot Ranch in Watsonville, co-owner Rod Faurot grumbles about the mountains of paperwork he must produce to comply with LGMA regulations. But he and co-owner Arturo Sanchez realize that the rules put them on a level playing field with producers 10 times their size. After the tour, Toronto dietician, author and broadcaster Rosie Schwartz said she’d been totally wrong in her assessment of what happens in the fields. “I’m so impressed with all the different protocols LGMA have put in place,” Schwartz said, “from hand-washing to disinfecting knives, and knowing that an employee is considered a hero for stopping the harvest instead of covering it up.” That authority and the level of traceability also impressed Melanie Bayluk, writer and account manager for Western Grocer magazine, Winnipeg, Canada. After visiting a Dole Fresh Vegetables processing plant in Soledad, which processes and blends a million pounds of lettuce a day for bagged salads, Schwartz and Montreal dietician Marie Breton agreed they’d no longer tell readers to wash bagged salad at home after it’s already been triple-washed under strict standards.