Packer Interview - Scott Horsfall with LGMA
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In its search for answers in the E. coli foodborne illness out break linked to romaine, the Food and Drug Administration put a tighter focus on Adam Bros. Farming in mid-December.

The agency on Dec. 17 added notice of a sub-recall and updates the investigation of the multistate outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses linked to romaine lettuce grown in California this fall. 

The agency said on Dec. 13, Adam Bros. Farming, Inc., in Santa Barbara County, recalled products that may have come into contact with water from the water reservoir where the outbreak strain was found. The FDA said the firm recalled red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and cauliflower harvested on Nov. 27 through Nov. 30. According to the firm, cauliflower was distributed to wholesalers in the U.S. Mexico, and Canada.

The company issued a statement on Dec. 19 said it was cooperating with FDA and other health officials. The company said the FDA’s website, as of Dec. 17, indicated the agency had no concerns about products from Adam Bros. that did not come into contact with water from a reservoir that was tested earlier this month. 

The company, stating that “food safety is part of everything we do,” said that FDA has recognized that Adam Bros. is working with federal food safety agencies.

“Since we were first notified by regulators of this situation, Adam Bros. has voluntarily issued a recall and has been cooperating with government agencies and working nonstop, along with FDA personnel, to determine if, and/or how one of its water systems is involved.”

The statement said Adams Brothers operates several ranches located between five and 20 miles away from the water reservoir in question. “None of these other ranches share a water source or are in any way connected to the reservoir that FDA is focusing on,” the company said. “These ranches are separate and distinct and the vegetables grown on them can be sold and consumed with confidence.”

“We hope that FDA’s statement will restore the produce industry’s confidence and trust in Adam Bros. as a six generation, vertically integrated family farm in Santa Maria Valley,” Peter Adam, a co-owner of Adam Brothers, said in the statement. “We have vegetables - broccoli, cauliflower and celery - grown on ranches that are on the other side of the valley, and FDA’s statement now makes it clear that these products are not the agency’s focus.”

Adam Bros. Farming is one of a very few handler shippers of leafy greens that are not now a part of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, a voluntary group organized to address food safety issues in leafy greens production, according to Scott Horsfall, CEO of California’s LGMA.

Horsfall said the company was a member of LGMA early on but has not been part of the group since about 2009.

While he couldn’t speak to Adams Bros. food safety testing and systems, Horsfall said LGMA has tried to communicate to buyers the value of LGMA membership.

“We’ve always tried to communicate to buyers that it is really important for them to help enforce the program by having policies (that) they only buy from (LGMA) members,” he said.

Horsfall said it is impossible to know if LGMA membership could have helped Adams Bros. prevent contamination of fresh produce.

“We require a certain amount of microbial testing (for all) growers’ water sources,” he said, noting that FDA also conducted tests not normally done in LGMA audits. “It’s hard to say whether things might have been different.”

In an email statement to The Packer, Adam Bros. Farming said the following about the question of LGMA membership:

"As a grower, there are many equally valid and well-recognized food safety regimes to choose from. We grow more than leafy greens so our food safety programs must also apply to many different products. We have never wavered in our commitment to follow FSMA standards set by FDA, customer food safety requirements, and industry practices based on science."

The Adam Bros. recall has prompted a Dec. 15 sub-recall by Spokane Produce Inc. of Spokane, Wash. The firm recalled sandwiches and other products under the Northwest Cuisine Creations and Fresh&Local labels.

The FDA said the total illness count is 59 from 15 states and the District of Columbia, and the number of hospitalizations number 23 as of Dec. 17.

In another recall, Wegmans recalled four fresh cauliflower items Dec. 18 after notification by a supplier that the products could be contaminated with E. coli.

Cleveland-based Produce Packaging initiated the recall, according to a news release. The products were distributed to 98 stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts and sold between Dec. 7 and Dec. 18.