California’s Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has released a list of steps the group and others in the produce industry, as well as regulators, have taken to address E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce.
"Foodborne illness outbreaks have a significant and devastating impact on consumers who put their trust in our products," Scott Horfsall, CEO of the California LGMA, said in a news release. “Members of the LGMA take our responsibility to produce safe food very seriously and work to make improvements is well underway."
When the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control reported E. coli outbreaks linked to Salinas, Calif., romaine were over on Jan. 15, Horsfall said the group is working with Western
Growers to “conduct an open transparent review of the required food safety practices under the LGMA,” according to a news release which called it a “systemic overhaul” of food safety practices.
The LGMA’s list of actions, released Jan. 23, focuses on six main initiatives:
- Farming practices: California and Arizona LGMAs have banned the use of untreated surface water for irrigation prior to harvest and increases buffer zones between animal operations and fields.
- Training for farmers and employees: The LGMA, Western Growers and Grower-Shipper Association of Central California are training growers and employees on new requirements in California and Arizona.
- Review of best practices: Western Growers is conducting a technical assessment of LGMA practices, and the California LGMA has created a subcommittee to review updates to ag water standards; other subcommittees will focus on soil, proximity of animal operations and equipment sanitation.
- Research initiatives: The Center for Produce Safety has funded studies to get to a root cause of the leafy green contamination, and the FDA and other agencies are researching the cause of outbreaks traced to California and Arizona fields. A 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 4 meeting at the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner’s office will focus on a study to monitor environmental conditions that may be contributing to the outbreaks.
- Supply chain joint efforts: The Romaine Task Force brought 100 representatives from the industry and other groups; their report focuses on science/prevention, traceability, harvest location labeling on romaine, and the investigation/collaboration process.
- Pathogen testing: The FDA has a year-long program that will test 270 romaine samples in Arizona and California growing regions.
The LGMA released the information Jan. 23, the same day that The Boston Globe published findings from a six-month investigation that were critical of the industry’s and FDA’s responses to the outbreaks. While The Globe noted the LGMA’s steps to change buffer zones and water treatment, it reported the FDA shields the industry from harm and is not equipped to properly handle E. coli outbreaks linked to leafy greens.
A video that accompanies the articles includes Horsfall and Dan Sutton, the California LGMA’s chairman. April Ward, LGMA marketing communications director, said the group had been working on the list to highlight actions taken to address romaine problems, but decided to publicize Jan. 23 because the Globe’s reporting made it a timely issue.
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