( Courtesy California LGMA )

As leafy greens growers prepare to move from California’s Central Coast regaion to the desert regions of California and Yuma, Ariz., to start fall/winter production, they’re taking extra precautions, according to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

In recent years, E. coli outbreaks traced to leafy greens harvested during the transition period have forced the LGMAs for the states to enact stricter measures.

“As we approach the fall transition when patterns have emerged in recent years, everyone is taking additional precautions to prevent potential problems,” Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California LGMA, said in a news release.

That includes ramping up inspections. The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which is designated by the Food and Drug Administration to conduct the inspections, is adding more personnel to increase on-farm visits over the next several months.

Dan Sutton, a grower and LGMA chairman, said 2020 has been challenging enough for consumers, growers and farm workers.

“As farmers, we’re doing everything possible to make sure our crops are farmed safely and we’re working together with government, food safety experts and the produce industry to keep people safe,” Sutton said in the release.

The LGMA released a list of 10 actions growers are taking to keep leafy greens safe.

“These activities are designed to improve leafy greens safety now and into the future,” Horsfall said in the release.

The LGMA’s ‘10 things being done to make leafy greens safer:’

  • LGMA food safety audits are ongoing during COVID-19;
  • The California LGMA is intensifying audits during the season transition, with every member being audited at least once between now and November;
  • LGMA members must be in compliance with all 300-plus food safety checkpoints during on-farm audits;
  • Irrigation standards passed in 2019 are being implemented and enforced (there are 92 checkpoints dealing exclusively with water safety);
  • Training and education is taking place for standards on water use and field/equipment that were approved in August;
  • State agencies are monitoring compost used on leafy greens farms;
  • Arizona and California state inspectors are visiting farms to ensure they comply with the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule;
  • Research continues to learn more about potential risks in growing leafy greens;
  • The LGMA mandates and verifies through audits that members have a traceability system in place; and
  • The LGMA supports a Leafy Greens Traceability Pilot to improve traceback through the supply chain.

More changes to LGMA standards will be coming in the near future, Horsfall said.

“Most importantly, we are looking closely at the LGMA’s required food safety practices for the proximity of animals to leafy greens farms in light of findings from FDA investigations into past outbreaks,” he said in the release. “We have already increased buffer zones required between animal operations and our farms. Additional changes are being considered now.”

The California LGMA conducted a web seminar Sept. 1 to provide information on LGMA practices. Participants included representatives of the two LGMAs, Sonia Salas, Western Growers assistant vice president of food safety, science and technology; Natalie Krout-Greenberg of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Inspection Services Director; and Jennifer McEntire, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association.

The seminar is available for viewing online.

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