For the second time this year, romaine lettuce growers are imposing measures they hope will end the recent string of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks, associated with their products last year. This latest action to strengthen food safety practices that will be required by romaine lettuce farms came Friday in a vote by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board of Directors.
California and Arizona’s Yuma Growing Region together account for 90 percent of the leafy greens grown the United States. Growers in both states signed on to Leafy Green Marketing Agreements after the deadly 2006 E. coli outbreak associated with freshly bagged spinach to overcome doubts that major retail buyers were expressing about the industry at that time.
Last year, those doubts returned with back-to-back-to-back E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks that were linked to eating romaine lettuce grown in the Yuma region and in California. Those three outbreaks were also deadly events, killing six people out of the 297 confirmed E. coli cases that resulted from the outbreaks that began in the final days of 2017 and continued into early 2019.
Both LGMAs previously adopted new standards for their growers that were announced in January. Those involved equipment cleaning practices, proactive steps for flooding and high wind weather-related events, mandatory traceability measures, and buffers between growing areas and feedlots with 1,000 or more animals. California’s LGMA imposed the larger buffers.
“The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board of Directors have adopted additional requirements to reduce risk when it comes to water used in growing lettuce and leafy greens,” said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).
“This means that every box of leafy greens placed into commerce by a certified LGMA member will now be produced under new, more stringent requirements. We have effectively changed the way leafy greens are farmed.”
The LGMA will begin immediately to make sure everyone in the leafy greens community understands how to comply with the new requirements.
Foodsafetynews.com points out that additional information on specific changes to the LGMA food safety practices will be provided in the coming weeks and a webinar for retail and foodservice operations will be scheduled soon, according to the organization’s officials.