California and Arizona leafy greens growers and processors are in a process to update language in their food safety protocols ahead of a 2018 deadline established by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The Leafy Green Marketing Agreements in Arizona and California recently contracted with Western Growers Association to spearhead a process to update food safety guidelines that both organizations will require of their members, according to Teressa Lopez, program administrator with the Arizona LGMA.
Ultimately all U.S. producers and processors of leafy greens will need to comply with the FSMA rules by next January. For the two LGMA’s, voluntary membership not only gives them a voice in this process, but allows them to certify that they adhere to universal, scientifically-based food safety protocols that domestic and international markets seek.
Listening sessions in California and Arizona have already taken place in Santa Maria, Calif. and Salinas, Calif.
Upcoming listening sessions and webinars:
The move to update language in the LGMA protocols is borne largely from the produce safety rule within FSMA and what those in the industry commonly call “the Harmonized Audit,” says Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer with the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
The “audit” is not a singular document or event, but rather an effort spearheaded several years ago by United Fresh Produce Association to standardize on-farm food safety audits using a variety of good agricultural practices, Horsfall says. These include a variety of pre- and post-harvest practices aimed at protecting public health.
The changes come a decade after LGMA was created. Its creation was borne from an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 traced to California spinach that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says sickened 199 people and killed three.
Shortly after the spinach recalls were issued WGA President Tom Nassif called for a set of protocols to bolster public confidence and provide a set of standardized food safety practices that are workable and repeatable regardless of the size of the farm or processor.
Today LGMA protocols cover pre- and post-harvest activities in lettuce, escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula and chard.
Horsfall says the process to meet the FSMA deadline is just getting started. Comments from these listening sessions will eventually be folded into a large document governing food safety practices under the LGMA in both states.
Not only is the process lengthy and detailed, but Horsfall says guidance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will be needed to ensure LGMA practices are consistent with FDA rules.
The latest effort is not a rewrite of the metrics used by LGMA members, but rather an update to language and a response to actions the FDA may or will take with respect to the produce safety rule within FSMA.
Unanswered questions within FMSA will need to be addressed by the FDA before the LGMA protocols can be written, which may happen later this summer.
One of the areas that could receive much discussion will be the water rule, according to Sonia Salas, director of science and technology with Western Growers Association.
Within that section will be how growers and processors use water, how that water is tested, and any corrective actions that will become necessary if water tests reveal samples not in compliance with government standards.
Salas says FDA input is being sought in this area to ensure that language in the protocols is clear, understandable and workable.
For Horsfall, the whole purpose of the exercise to update the food safety protocols is to make the language as “black-and-white” as possible.
Water is just one of those areas where Horsfall says uncertainty exists between what LGMA does and what the federal government may require under the new regulations.
“The FDA has heard a lot of feedback from the produce industry since they published the rules and it’s my understanding they may go back and revisit those rules and issue some guidance and clarification to some of our questions,” Horsfall said.
“Nobody knows when this might happen, so it would be premature for us to make a bunch of changes to our metrics until we know the federal requirements,” he continued.
“This process is important so we can ensure consumer confidence in the leafy greens we grow,” Salas said.