Eleven years have passed since the California fresh produce industry experienced its worst foodborne illness outbreak: Three died and 205 were sickened from the consumption of bagged spinach contaminated with Escherichia coli O157:H7 (see “LGMA Timeline”). Additionally, this outbreak resulted in a loss of consumer confidence in leafy greens and financial losses for the food industry near $1 billion.
The following year, in 2007, in association with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the leafy greens industry created the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA), which has resulted in improved food safety practices for growers and handlers. A similar program was created in Arizona. Almost 95 percent of lettuce produced in the U.S. is produced under the LGMA programs in California and Arizona. That adds up to about 50 billion servings of leafy greens a year.
The California LGMA program continuously undergoes updates and improvements, thanks to a strong collaboration between industry and university scientists, food safety experts, government officials, farmers, transporters and processors.
While many groups throughout the California leafy greens industry participated in the creation of the LGMA, it truly was a collaborative effort that united an entire farming community. And even though the LGMA was necessitated by a tragic event, the real reason this program exists today is because a group of committed individuals vowed to do everything possible to ensure such a tragedy never happens again.
For the leafy greens community, 2017 is a very important year. It marks a decade of protecting public health, which the LGMA plans to commemorate as the year goes on. But it is also a year in which the organization will focus on the future, through expanded training efforts and alignment with the new federal food safety laws, for
Throughout this year, the LGMA will recognize the leafy greens industry’s leaders, farmers, government officials and scientists who are committed to food safety through this program. Of course, it will also continue to support and honor groups like STOP Foodborne Illness, who remind the industry every day why food safety is so important.
In the spirit of continuous improvement, which has guided the LGMA along the way, it will also be offering improved training programs through LGMA Tech (see “LGMA Training”). Additionally, working with the valued industry partner Western Growers, the LGMA is conducting a complete review of the existing metrics for leafy greens to ensure that its food safety practices continue to be based on the best available science and align with new federal food safety regulations.
The year 2018 is when growers must become ready to comply with the new Produce Safety rule, which is part of the Food Safety Modernization Act. The LGMA is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and CDFA to ensure that growers’ food safety programs can verify compliance with the Produce Safety rule at the same time growers are being audited for the LGMA.
Food safety is a process, not a one-time task. The LGMA program helps member companies establish a culture of food safety on the farm. This means that food safety happens every day and that every employee has a role to play. Continuous improvement through training and education is a top priority for the LGMA, which requires and facilitates training for leafy greens shippers, growers and harvest crews throughout California.