U.S.: LGMA lettuce growers get head start on food safety changes

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U.S.: LGMA lettuce growers get head start on food safety changes

California's Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has helped local growers get a head start on compliance with new regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administrations' (USDA) Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

The final rule for the FSMA was published on the Federal Register near the end of 2015, and food facilities will have only one to three years to comply, depending on the size of the business.

April Ward

April Ward

Because the set date for noncompliance penalties is still flexible, some food manufacturers have procrastinated on their participation. Many companies are waiting for the rules, corresponding enforcement and penalties to be clarified, according to Food Safety Magazine.

However, lettuce growers are likely not included in this group of procrastinators thanks to efforts made by the LGMA program to keep lettuce and leafy green growers' food safety practices in line with the updated FSMA regulation.

In conversation with www.freshfruitportal.com, LGMA communications director April Ward discussed how the LGMA program kept these growers' food safety practices in check.

"Our goal is to make sure that leafy greens here in California are farmed safely, so that consumers can eat them with confidence. We want to make sure that the farming practices that our members are using are all designed to keep pathogens out of crops such as lettuce and spinach," she said.

"Our program is limited and does not include all 23,000 farmers in the state. We cover growers of lettuce and leafy greens. We have 14 different crops and you have to be a grower of one of those. That's what we zero in on."

These crops include: arugula, butter leaf lettuce, chard, escarole, endive, iceberg lettuce, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, baby leaf lettuce, cabbage, spinach, kale, romaine and spring mix.

"To be a member of our organization you have to be a shipper or a handler, and that's the first person who's going to be putting the product into commerce," she said.

"We have about 100 members, and we estimate they have between 300-400 growers they work with. So they're making sure their growers are using these food safety practices.

"Regarding the changes in regulation, that's where we're very unique because the growers and the shippers who have been operating under our program are for the most part in compliance with the new FDA regulations," she said.

Ward said many other produce farmers were going to have to do things that they might not have done historically regarding their food safety practices.

"But our industry for the past nine years has been doing very similar practices."

"There are a few small changes that we may need to make, but for the most part it's lining up pretty nicely: what we have now with what the FDA is requiring. And they're going to start enforcing that in January of 2018.

"So farmers have some time. But our industry is really unique because we're already ready in a way."

Ward said LGMA was synched in with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and used their government inspectors on their audits. Thet also worked with the FDA, she added.

"We're hoping we can get acceptance from FDA that our members are using these practices the same as what the new FDA rules will be, and we're using government inspectors to do that.

"So we're looking to get recognition from them that our certification is showing that their rules are being enforced. And we're using government inspectors to verify that.

"So hopefully our certification will meet what they're needing, as they're looking to enforce the whole law across the nation. Our industry has been doing it," she said.

LGMA has a sister program in Arizona which also uses government inspectors.

"They have almost the same food safety practices, there are just a few regional differences.

"Together our programs cover almost 95% of U.S. lettuce and leafy greens production. So most of this production is coming out of California and Arizona," she said.




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