What is in this article?:
- Leafy greens industry still reeling from E. coli-spinach outbreak
- LGMA covers 14 leafy greens
- Sanitation critical
- The Western leafy greens industry continues to rebuild food safety record from the E. coli 0157:H7-California spinach contamination in September 2006;
- California leafy greens executive Scott Horsfall says food safety is now Job One on the farm;
- Food safety incidents are a "black eye" on agricultural sectors, says Scott Hood of General Mills;
- New federal Food Safety Modernization Act will target more regulations on leafy greens and other commodities deemed by the Food and Drug Administration as higher risks for pathogen contamination.
LGMA covers 14 leafy greens
The California LGMA was implemented in April 2007 and covers 14 leafy greens grown in conventional and organic fields and on small and large California farms. The crops include argula, baby leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, cabbage (green, red, and savoy), chard, endive, escarole, green leaf lettuce, iceberg lettuce, kale, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, and spring mix.
Today, about 90 percent of the U.S. leafy green production is grown in California and Arizona; 75 percent in California and 15 percent in Arizona. Arizona’s winter-grown leafy greens industry implemented an almost carbon copy LGMA program in 2008.
“For nearly four years we’ve held the industry to this higher standard,” Horsfall said. “We have completed over 2,000 inspections (announced and unannounced audits) on farms in California. A compliance program requires corrective actions. We have, when necessary, punished our members including de-certification.”
Since the California LGMA was enacted, Horsfall says more than 100 billion servings of leafy greens have been grown. Today, 99 percent of California commercial leafy green production is grown under the LGMA program which is a signed contract with handlers. With the handler’s signature, 100 percent participation in the LGMA standards including “good agricultural practices” is required.
“The heart of our program is government oversight,” Horsfall said. “We use state agricultural inspectors (for audits) who are overseen, trained, and licensed by the USDA.”
Many LGMA standards were developed according to science-based standards, when available, from industry experts and land-grant university scientists, and reviewed by USDA and other regulatory agencies. Other standards were developed with foodborne illness at the forefront with hopes that science would later prove or demonstrate a needed change.
“LGMA is a living document,” said Horsfall. “There is a lot of research underway so the standards are continuously updated as we learn how pathogens get into the product and the food supply.”
Part of the ongoing research is on the actual source of E. coli and salmonella pathogens. Neither spontaneously grows in a vegetable field but can be introduced from the environment through wildlife, water, and other potential sources.
At General Mills, food safety is a 24-7 top priority, says Hood, senior manager for microbiology and thermal processing. The company manufactures a plethora of food products including cereal, yogurt, and the Betty Crocker and Old El Paso brands. General Mills markets products to 100 countries worldwide.
Hood says General Mills has three top concerns on food safety for the company: raw food ingredients, the processing step, and physical environment inside the production plant. Hood acknowledged the top concern is raw food.
“General Mills buys about 5,000 ingredients from 1,000 production locations,” Hood told the crowd. “Each location is potentially an issue if things are not done right. If there are microorganisms in the ingredients coming into our plant then they could potentially be in our food products. We are very diligent with the ingredients.”