As the Yuma, Ariz., lettuce season begins, growers there will be following new food safety standards after an industry-led massive effort dug into the possible causes — and what to do about them — of an E. coli outbreak linked to Yuma romaine.
Updated food safety metrics adopted by the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement include:
- More rigorous risk assessments on intense weather conditions;
- Added measures for leafy greens grown near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs);
- More requirements on cleaning/sanitizing harvest equipment; and
- Stronger traceback requirements.
The beefed up rules stem from recommendations from the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force, a group of 134 growers, researchers, trade organizations, retailers, state/local government representatives and others, following months of intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the E. coli outbreak.
One of the significant new measures, focusing on CAFOs, follows the Food and Drug Administration’s finding the same E. coli strain in romaine in an irrigation canal. The canal ran through land adjacent to a large-scale cattle feedlot. The Arizona LGMA’s new rules call for tripling a buffer zone between CAFOs and leafy green crops, and more rigorous risk assessments will be used for fields near CAFOs, according to a news release on the metrics.
Changes involving weather events will require more assessments following flooding, frosts or high winds. The task force looked at evidence that suggests a combination of unusual weather events could have been a factor in pathogens entering leafy green leaves, according to the release.
As for traceability, identification of all lot data on Yuma leafy greens is required. Most firms collect the data, according to the release, but this ensures the potential for a gap in traceability doesn’t come from the grower community.
“Arizona farms take these food safety practices very seriously and are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future outbreaks,” Arizona LGMA Food Safety Committee Administrator Teressa Lopez said in the release. “We appreciate the tireless work of the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force, and are confident that these changes will strengthen our food safety practices in the upcoming growing season.”
Lettuce on the Dr. Oz show
Shortly after the new metrics were released, California LGMA CEO Scott Horsfall appeared on the Dr. Oz show. The Sept. 24 show, titled “Is Salad Safe to Eat Again? The Lettuce Industry Speaks Out,” featured a one-on-one discussion between Horsfall and Dr. Oz, centered on the Calif.-Ariz. LGMAs and food safety requirements members adhere to.
The show also featured a “Salad Summit” panel with:
- Natalie Dyenson, vice president of food safety and quality at Dole;
- John Boelts, growers and first vice president of the Arizona Farm Bureau; and
- Toby Amidor, food safety consultant and nutritionist.
In the segment, Dr. Oz said 90% of Americans don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables.
“I think not eating lettuce can be a bigger health problem than the occasional outbreak,” he said.
The episode is online at https://www.doctoroz.com/episode/salad-safe-eat-again-lettuce-industry-speaks-out.