food safety bar
for field and
As the recent peanut butter ingredient recalls once again made clear, incidents of food contamination within the supply chain remain a top-level food safety concern for onsite operators and buyers. It is good, then, to see that such crises sometimes are a spur to much-needed standards and enforcement practices that will improve food supply quality assurance for the long term.
One good recent example of this was the creation in 2007 of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement in response to the e coli fresh spinach contamination crisis the year before. Initiated by the California handler and shipper community, the program took advantage of existing state “marketing agreement” legislation, normally used to support promotional activities, and used it to create an authority to establish food safety field standards for growing and harvesting leafy green crops grown in the state, along with enforceable third-party audit, inspection and standards compliance processes.
LGMA operates under the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). The group's nearly 120 members account for 99 percent of all the California lettuce, spinach and other leafy greens shipped from the state.
While membership in LGMA is voluntary, once a shipper/handler has joined, the program and inspections are completely mandatory and have the force of law behind them. A member company can sell and ship product only from farmers who comply with the LGMA accepted food safety practices.
Inspections audits are carried out by state CDFA employees who have been certified by the USDA. On average, each participating company gets audited about four times a year, and that will include at least one surprise audit in which inspectors show up without notice and demand lists of fields being harvested for that handler that day, which are then inspected. The cost of the program is borne by the handlers, which are assessed a per-box fee for that purpose.
In practice, the program has some similarities to a HACCP program in that it seeks to use inspectable standards and documented procedures to drive continuous improvement.
“The field standards are based on newsly expanded version of USDA's “GAP” (Good Agricultural Practices) program,” says Scott Horsfall, the program's CEO. “The auditors are completely independent amd LGMA members are required to have written compliance plans and trace-back programs in place.” Horsfall also says many large buyers will not purchase leafy green product unless it is from a certified member of the program.
“The LGMA initiative was a critical step in standardizing food safety practices among California growers of leafy greens,” comments Tim York, president of Markon, Inc., one of the largest buyers of fresh produce in the foodservice industry.
“We as buyers know product with the CDFA seal has been farmed to a high standard that was put together by regulators, science and industry, and that it is being enforced by a credible third party. That is critical for our foodservice distributor owners and customers.”
While the CDFA seal does not appear on boxes shipped to operators, those interested in the program can inquire about it from their produce suppliers and by visiting LGMA's website at www.caleafygreens.ca.gov.