An expert panel has found that the best practices guidelines already followed by California and Arizona growers compares favorably with the new Produce Safety Rule now finalized under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). All four reviewers on the panel say that the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s (LGMA’s) food safety guidelines provide the same kind of public health protection as the applicable requirements proposed in the new national Produce Safety Rule. The nine-year old LGMA came about as an industry response to the devastating 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak involving California-grown spinach sold in the bag. The LGMA guidelines, which have been revised a dozen times since they first came out almost a decade ago, are supposed to represent food safety best practices for the production and harvest of leafy greens. They have also served as a sort of precursor for the national Produce Safety Rule, which was in development for almost five years after FSMA was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011. Conducting the review was Seattle-based IDS Decision Sciences and Western Growers, the industry association that brought growers and retailers together to restore confidence in California-grown leafy greens after the spinach-linked outbreak. “With the many changes in the LGMA food safety practices and the addition of the Produce Rule under FSMA, we felt it was important to seek an expert review of our current Guidelines to ensure the LGMA remains a strong, preventative program that minimizes the risk of microbial contamination in the production and harvest of leafy greens,” said Scott Horsfall, president and chief executive of the California LGMA. The four experts called upon to conduct the review, from left to right are:
- Dr. Robert Bracket, vice president and director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health and the former director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition;
- Dr. Kali E. Kniel, professor of microbial food safety at the University of Delaware;
- Dr. Manan Sharma, research microbiologist in the Environmental and Microbial Food Safety Laboratory and the Agricultural Research Service at USDA, and,
- Dr. Michele Jay-Russell, project director for the Western Center for Food Safety at the University of California.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture provided oversight when the LGMA guidelines were written and it conducts a mandatory audit program to verify that all growers selling to handlers who are signatories to the marketing agreement produce and harvest under the LGMA mandates. While the experts agreed the LGMA guidelines “represent the most current microbial food safety practices,” Sharma said that emerging research suggests the soil amendment might need a “modification” on separation between leafy green fields and areas holding animals or involved in composting. Jay-Russell said the LGMA “greatest strength” is its ability to incorporate new research findings in the program. Hank Gicias, vice president of Western Growers for Strategic Planning, Science and Technology, said he was pleased that the review panel recognized the LGMA system has the capacity to”incorporate the most current science into its required food safety practices … .”
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