Metrics require extra monitoring and additional prescriptive measures
The Arizona LGMA (Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement) is entering its upcoming growing season with improved food safety practices in light of the E. coli outbreak earlier this year associated with romaine. The updated Food Safety Metrics include: more rigorous risk assessments to address intense weather conditions; additional measures for the production of leafy greens near concentrated animal feeding operations; more prescriptive requirements for the cleaning and sanitizing of harvest equipment;, and stronger traceback requirements. These changes are required of all AZ LGMA members and will be verified during the upcoming season beginning in November 2018.
The updated Metrics align with recommendations of the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force and follow two months of examination of all the farm conditions and practices. Although reports from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Center for Disease Control and Prevention provided some insight, the Task Force invested thousands of hours conducting additional investigative research to address all scenarios that may have led to the E.coli outbreak.
Members of the Task Force included growers from Arizona and California, federal and state governmental agencies, scientists, researchers, consumer advocates and the buyer community. Specific changes to the Arizona LGMA food safety practices include:
Metrics will now require an additional environmental assessment following weather events like flooding, frost or high winds. Evidence reviewed by the Task Force suggests that a combination of unusual weather events and plant diseases may have been a contributing factor to pathogens, like E.coli, entering the leaves.
Added prescriptive measures for the frequency and timing of cleaning and sanitizing of harvest equipment has been included in these updates and allows for further verification of these practices.
Risk Management related to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)
Updated and future metrics will triple the buffer zones between CAFOs and leafy greens crops, from the current standard 400 feet to 1,200 feet. More rigorous risk assessments will be in place whenever leafy greens are grown close to CAFOs. CAFOs are animal feeding operations in small concentrated areas – common among livestock and other animal feeding operations on farms and ranches.
Metrics language will require the identification of all 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.
“Our Arizona LGMA members serve the leafy greens they grow to their own families. Arizona farms take these food safety practices very seriously and are committed to doing everything possible to prevent future outbreaks,” said Arizona LGMA Food Safety Committee Administrator Teressa Lopez. “We appreciate the tireless work of the Leafy Greens Food Safety Task Force, and are confident that these changes will strengthen our food safety practices in the upcoming growing season.”
In July 2018, the Arizona LGMA set a research budget of a $120,000 for this year. A portion of that funding went to the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to look further into the plausibility of plant diseases and weather conditions as contributing factor to this year’s outbreak.
California and Arizona produce more than 50 billion servings of leafy greens every year to U.S. consumers. The leafy greens community shares a common goal to strengthen the way food is grown, harvested and distributed. The purpose of the Task Force continues to be to sharpen food safety systems through the entire supply chain in both states.
The Arizona LGMA is a consortium of shippers of Arizona leafy greens that have put in place strict food safety best practices to ensure the integrity of leafy greens grown, harvested, and shipped from Arizona. The program aims to diffuse potential issues through an intricate system of checks and balances.
The program is administered by the Arizona Department of Agriculture and audited by USDA-licensed auditors. More information is at arizonaleafygreens.org.