Making Romaine Lettuce Safe
Romaine Lettuce Outbreak -
What Consumers Should Know
As a result of recent outbreaks associated with romaine lettuce, lettuce and leafy greens farmers are taking additional precautions.
To help communicate these measures, the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has issued an action list of ten things being done to keep leafy greens safe. These activities are designed to improve leafy greens safety now and into the future.
The LGMA is the most stringent food safety program in the produce industry. In many areas, this program goes well beyond what’s required of other produce crops under federal laws.
For example, the LGMA is the only program that requires its farmers to perform mandatory water testing and have traceback systems in place to track product back to the farm and forward to the first customer who receives it. On top of that, existing standards have been strengthened even further in the aftermath of recent outbreaks.
The list of Ten Things Being Done to Make Leafy Green Safer (in its entirety below) includes things like:
- A heavying-up of government audits conducted on leafy greens farms over the next three months;
- Stringent enforcement of sweeping new water standards for all LGMA member companies;
- An ongoing pilot program to improve the supply chain’s ability to assist government investigators in tracing lettuce from consumers back to the farm where it was grown;
- Enhanced testing of farming inputs like compost to monitor for pathogens.
All of this is being done to ensure consumers are protected. Now more than ever, it’s farmers’ responsibility to prevent leafy greens products from becoming the source of foodborne illness.
TEN THINGS BEING DONE TO MAKE LEAFY GREENS SAFER
1. LGMA food safety audits are ongoing during COVID-19
Mandatory on-farm audits of all LGMA members by government officials have continued during the pandemic. Members have a remote option for document review and verification.
2. The California LGMA is “heavying up” audits during the season transition
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is bringing in additional personnel to ensure that every LGMA member is audited at least once between now and November.
3. LGMA requires 100% compliance
As always, the LGMA requires its members to be in compliance with all 300+ food safety checkpoints that make up every on-farm audit conducted through the LGMA program.
4. 2019 irrigation water standards are being implemented and enforced
LGMA members are following new, more stringent standards approved in 2019 and these are being verified by government auditors. Farms must now comply with 92 different food safety checkpoints that deal exclusively with ensuring the safety of water used to grow leafy greens.
5. New food safety updates approved by LGMA Board in August 2020
The LGMA recently approved several more changes to its required food safety practices in the areas of farm water use and field/equipment sanitation. These will become part of audits in the near future. Education and training on how to comply with these requirements is underway now. Additional updates to other areas of the LGMA ‘s required food safety practices will be announced soon.
6. State agencies are monitoring compost used on leafy greens farms
The California Department of Food and Agriculture and sister state agencies are conducting a surveillance project to monitor compost used to grow leafy greens.
7. Government inspectors are working to ensure farms are in compliance with the Produce Safety Rule
Leafy greens farms in California and Arizona are being visited by additional state government inspectors acting in conjunction with FDA to ensure they are following all regulations under the Produce Safety Rule.
8. New research projects are underway to learn more about potential risks involved in farming leafy greens
It’s clear that we need to know more. Several new projects are being conducted by government, industry and academia with the goal of better informing the required food safety practices implemented under the LGMA.
9. The LGMA verifies with every audit that a traceability system is in place at all member companies
A recent survey of LGMA members shows 100% of LGMA members companies are tracking information that could assist government outbreak investigations.
10. The LGMA supports a Leafy Greens Traceability Pilot to improve traceback through the supply chain
A coalition of food industry groups that includes the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association is conducting a project aimed at improving the speed and efficiency of tracing product during an outbreak investigation.