The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) has voted for stronger, mandatory food safety practices for farmers.
The new standards, voted on by the LGMA Board on April 19th, are in direct response to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s investigations of last year’s Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreaks involving romaine lettuce. The first outbreak—traced to romaine lettuce from the Yuma, AZ, growing region—occurred last spring, resulting in 210 confirmed illnesses in 36 states, 96 hospitalizations, and five deaths. The second outbreak—traced to lettuce from the Central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California—occurred in the fall, sickening 62 people—25 of whom had to be hospitalized—in 16 states. No deaths were reported.
Under LGMA's new rules, every box of leafy greens placed into commerce by a certified LGMA member will soon be produced under new, more stringent requirements that are designed to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing leafy greens. The use of untreated surface water for overhead irrigation of leafy greens prior to harvest will no longer be allowed.
Farmers must now:
- Categorize the source of the water they use
- Consider how and when water is applied to the crop
- Conduct testing to confirm the water is safe for the intended use (According to LGMA, they have always required growers to test their water because it can be a carrier of pathogens.)
- Sanitize water if necessary
- Verify that all of the above precautions have been taken
The focus on water use is the result of last year’s E. coli outbreak investigations pointing to irrigation water (from canals and reservoirs) as the source of the illnesses in both outbreaks.
According to LGMA, the actions of the group—along with the help and expertise of industry members, growers, and member of the academic community—have effectively changed the way 99 percent of the leafy greens in California are farmed.
LGMA will now work to make sure that the leafy greens community understands how to comply with the new requirements. Workshops and webinars for both the leafy greens industry and buyers will be scheduled and announced soon.
You can download LGMA’s new water guidelines for leafy greens at LGMA.ca.gov.