( Courtesy California LGMA )

Members of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement have adopted new rules requiring them to sanitize “open source” used water for overhead irrigation following recent E. coli outbreaks that led investigators to suspect water as a cause.

The new rules, which passed in an April 19 vote, cover 99% of the leafy greens grown in California, according the California LGMA.

The LGMA will be scheduling workshops and seminars for growers and buyers to educate them on the changes, according to a blog post on the group’s website.

Through the new rules, growers will consider the source of water and how it’s delivered to crops. The focus is open source water, which includes groundwater and water from irrigation canals and reservoirs. Two recent E. coli outbreaks traced to romaine (a third was linked to “leafy greens) focused on open source water.

Following a spring 2018 outbreak, investigators found the same E. coli strain in irrigation canal water that passed by a large cattle feedlot on its way to Yuma, Ariz., fields. After a November 2018 outbreak, investigators found E. coli in sediment in an irrigation reservoir on a Santa Barbara County, Calif., farm.

The new steps in the California LGMA requires growers to:

  • Review their water system, sources and storage (canal/reservoir/well/municipal supply) and irrigation method (furrow/sprinkler/drip);
  • Conduct water testing — prepare a baseline assessment, check and test water system, and routinely monitor sources and systems; and
  • Treat water if necessary — Surface water for overhead irrigation 21 days before harvest must be sanitized.
  • The 21-day rule stems from studies showing it is a conservative time period to allow bacteria on crops to die, according to the California LGMA.

The leafy greens group, in collaboration with Western Growers, has worked with industry, growers and the academic community to establish more stringent requirements for water use, according to the LGMA’s blog.

“We are very aware of the tragic impacts a foodborne illness can have on consumers, our customers and our entire industry,” according to the blog. “We are all passionately committed to producing the safest leafy greens possible.  The LGMA will continue to make changes to as needed to strengthen the food safety requirements for leafy greens.”

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