( Courtesy California LGMA )

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement has a new subcommittee that focuses on how land adjacent to leafy greens fields might contribute to foodborne illness outbreaks from romaine lettuce.

The Adjacent Lands Subcommittee was established a week after the Food and Drug Administration release a report on three separate E. coli outbreaks from 2019 linked to romaine lettuce. The FDA didn’t find a single specific source of the E. coli, but reported it was likely adjacent cattle grazing areas were the source.

The subcommittee will review LGMA standards related to grazing land and adjacent properties and consult Center for Produce Safety research and other information, Sharan Lanini, Pacific International Marketing and the chairwoman of the LGMA’s Technical Committee, said in a news release.

“As part of this effort, the subcommittee plans to look at a number of factors including distance; slope and other physical properties; the impact of weather; potential barriers such as berms, diversion ditches or vegetative strips; and ‘good neighbor’ policies as they relate to properties located near leafy greens farming operations,” Lanini, who will lead the subcommittee, said in the release.

The California and Arizona LGMAs increased buffer zones around fields in relation to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in 2018, following other E. coli outbreaks.

“Current requirements under the LGMA call for assessments of environmental conditions in and around leafy greens fields,” Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California LGMA, said in the release. “But it’s clear more can be done to keep pathogens out of our farms.”

The subcommittee plans to talk with landowners near leafy greens farms including cattle operations and wine grape vineyards.

The Adjacent Lands Subcommittee will make recommendations in a new process through Western Growers that emphasizes transparency of the group’s addressing issues. New standards for water used to grow leafy greens and for soil amendments and other crop inputs are being considered.

“As leafy greens farmers we are committed to doing everything possible to make sure our products are safe,” Dan Sutton, general manager of Pismo-Oceano Vegetable Exchange in San Luis Obispo County and chairman of the LGMA, said in the release. “If we knew what additional precautions could keep pathogens out of our fields, we would immediately make changes to our food safety program.”

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