One of the great benefits of California and Arizona LGMAs is that we can act quickly to make changes to our programs when and if it is necessary to protect public health. And now, we're taking action.
Task Force recommendations
Just two weeks ago, the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force met and presented a list of proposed recommendations for improving the safety of leafy greens in light of the recent E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce.
Committees take action
Following that meeting, the Technical Committees of both the California and Arizona LGMAs considered recommendations from the Task Force that change the food safety practices, or metrics, required of all LGMA member companies. The Technical Committees from both states both recommended that their respective LGMA Board adopt a set of updated metrics. The changes are the same for both states.
Advisory boards will act next
In another week, both LGMA Boards will vote on the proposed new metrics. Once adopted, the changes will be incorporated into checklists used by government auditors to verify that required food safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms in California and Arizona. Just like that, the LGMA system will effectively change the way more than 90% of the leafy greens consumed in the U.S. are farmed.
The new practices will go into effect in Arizona just in time for the winter harvest.
Of course, the process is more complicated than what it looks in writing, but the food safety system is working as intended! Such swift and sweeping change would not be possible without the LGMA.
Changes in Three Areas
What specifically do the changes to the LGMA system entail? They fall into three basic categories:
Risk Management related to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The Technical Committees have recommended the minimum buffer zone between CAFOs and leafy greens crops be tripled to 1,200 feet from the current standard of 400 feet. Specific requirements are also recommended for a rigorous risk assessment whenever leafy greens are grown close to CAFOs. If the risk assessment indicates the need, testing of surface waters will be required.
Environmental Assessment. The Technical Committees are recommending changes to existing metrics that require an additional environmental assessment following a weather event like flooding. The proposed changes would expand the requirement to address other unusual weather events like frost or high winds. Evidence suggests that a combination of kinds of events may explain how a small percentage of romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region became contaminated. As part of the updated metrics Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will be required of each company showing how they are implementing this policy.
Traceability. Based on input from the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force, the LGMA Technical Committees are recommending the removal of existing language to strike the words “when available” in relation to collecting lot data from product that is placed into commerce. In practice, most firms do collect this data, but this change would remove any potential for not collecting data that would assist in traceback investigations or recalls.
In addition to these specific changes to the metrics, guidance documents and/or appendices are being developed to provide information and guidance to growers and handlers about the new requirements. The Technical Committees recognize the importance of providing the industry with tools to understand how to comply with the new changes. Much more information will be provided along with changes as they are introduced. The LGMA will also conduct outreach and workshops for the industry so everyone knows exactly what will be required of them.
We are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future outbreaks and take the effort to improve existing practices seriously. Growers and shippers will continue to rely on the LGMAs to do what our programs intended, Because the LGMA system is the best and quickest way to make leafy greens safer.