Until now, leafy green growers have been advised to take measures to prevent a specific list of risky animals, such as deer or livestock, from intruding into lettuce, spinach and other leafy green fields.
The new standards instead allow growers to assess the animal risk they feel most threatens to contaminate their crops and determine the best ways to mitigate that risk.
Horsfall said that the changes came after growers and other stakeholders expressed concern that some crops were being controlled for animal intrusion to a greater degree than was necessary. The effort to make the changes have been going on for more than a year, he added.
“We’re taking a more common-sense approach and putting more responsibility on the grower to decide what they perceive as a risk,” Horsfall told Food Safety News.
This is the first “significant” change to LGMA doctrine in some time, Horsfall said. The LGMA is made up of nearly 100 percent of California’s leafy green crop handlers, who agree to follow the same safety standards and work together to share information on how to best prevent foodborne illness associated with their products.
Recent studies have assessed the environmental impact of measures taken to keep wildlife out of crops in California. A study published by the Ecological Society of America estimated that 13 percent of riparian habitat in California’s Salinas Valley had been eliminated or damaged due to food-safety practices required of growers by grocery and restaurant chains during just a five-year period.
Other experts dispute that estimate, saying that many growers are very conscious of posing harm to wildlife or the environment.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with several leafy greens farmers who have allowed us to conduct research in their fields, and I can tell you they are very conservation-minded,” said Michele Jay-Russell, veterinarian and University of California-Davis researcher with the Western Center for Food Safety.
Jay-Russell worked closely with the industry in developing the new LGMA standards for animal intrusion. She said the new standards are designed to ensure that even if animals do intrude on a field, growers know how to prevent potentially contaminated product from reaching consumers.
The new standards require LGMA members to have approved Standard Operating Procedures in place to assess whether or not animal intrusion has occurred prior to, or during, harvest.
The same change to the animal intrusion standard was also accepted by the Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. Both California and Arizona growers will begin being audited for these new standards in the fall.
“Looking at the marketing agreement as something continually evolving,” Horsfall said, “this is a step forward.”© Food Safety News