( Photo courtesy LGMA; graphic by Amelia Freidline )

As we deal with yet another outbreak involving romaine, calls to “do more” for food safety are coming from all fronts. No one is more frustrated than the producers of leafy greens that these types of outbreaks continue.

Since 2007, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has worked to ensure that a set of science-based food safety practices is being implemented on leafy greens farms. The practices are verified through government audits that include over 160 checkpoints. Each LGMA member is audited an average of 5 times per year. Member companies of the LGMA are committed to producing safe food and are passionate about what they do. Food safety practices on leafy greens farms frequently exceed what is required. 

Still, the root causes of outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce remain a mystery despite the concentrated focus on safety by leafy greens producers and government regulators.  Our thoughts are with those whose lives have been impacted in these outbreaks.

After the 2018 outbreaks, the LGMA programs in California and Arizona took action to strengthen practices for surface water used in irrigating leafy greens and extended the buffer zones required between leafy greens fields and animal feeding operations.

In order to improve our practices and further protect consumers, the LGMA has embarked on a systematic review of all the food safety practices included in our program.  

To do this, we have appointed industry experts to serve on a series of subcommittees that are examining different aspects of the LGMA’s food safety practices. A water subcommittee has met several times since August and is looking to improve the practices that have already been adopted, as well as other steps that can be taken as an industry to improve the safety of agricultural water. A new soil amendments subcommittee will do the same. Additional subcommittees will look at sanitary practices on ranches and operations adjacent to leafy greens farms.

These LGMA subcommittees will work with our technical committees in California and Arizona and with Western Growers to see that changes to our food safety practices are made — changes that can improve the way we protect public health.

While the LGMA is charged with ensuring the adoption of safe farming practices among producers, the organization does not operate alone. Critical to improving the safety of leafy greens is research, training and implementation of advanced traceability systems throughout the supply chain.

Numerous efforts throughout the produce industry are underway to help us learn how future outbreaks can be prevented and contained. There is an incredible amount of attention throughout the entire supply chain on improving the safety of leafy greens. 

There is nothing more important to the LGMA than making sure leafy greens are safe. When the LGMA makes changes to its required food safety practices, we can change the way over 90% of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. are farmed. This is why we believe the LGMA program is the fastest and best way to improve the safety of lettuce and leafy greens.

Scott Horsfall is CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.

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