Government Shutdown Has No Impact on Romaine Safety as Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Works Even Harder to Prevent Future Outbreaks

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–News of the government shutdown’s impact on federal public health
agencies has raised concerns about the safety of the U.S. food supply.
Leafy greens producers want consumers to know the shutdown is not having
an impact on efforts to prevent foodborne illness outbreaks on their
farms. In fact, the industry has significantly stepped up efforts to
improve leafy greens safety following two recent outbreaks linked to
romaine lettuce.

“Government foods safety audits of leafy greens fields in the southern
desert areas of California and Yuma, AZ are continuing as usual,” said
Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
“These efforts are not impacted by the current government shutdown and,
the leafy greens community continues to work diligently to protect
public health.”

California and Arizona produce over 90 percent of leafy greens, like
romaine, grown in the U.S. Growers in these states are subject to a
stringent food safety program known as the Leafy Greens Marketing
Agreement, or LGMA. Under this program, leafy greens producers are
required to follow a set of science-based food safety practices and
their farms are inspected by government auditors to ensure the practices
are being followed.

“The audits are conducted by government officials employed by the state
departments of agriculture in California and Arizona who are not
associated with the current federal government shutdown,” explained
Horsfall. “This means that government audits are regularly taking place
in leafy greens fields to verify farmers are following all 150 food
safety checkpoints that are part of each LGMA audit. Each member of the
LGMA is audited an average of five times during the year.”

Following last spring’s E. coli outbreak that impacted romaine lettuce
from Yuma, AZ, the LGMA added additional requirements to its program
that call for enhanced irrigation water testing and increased buffers
between large animal operations and leafy greens farms.

“These new requirements are part of the government audits taking place
today,” said Horsfall, adding the industry continues to examine its
practices and a group of industry experts is currently reviewing
existing food safety practices – particularly those involving water
testing — so that additional safeguards can be added to the program.

“The leafy greens community is fully committed to preventing future
foodborne illness outbreaks. The LGMA program was created as a mechanism
to enforce food safety practices throughout the industry,” said Steve
Church, a producer of leafy greens and chairman of the California LGMA.
“No one wants to prevent outbreaks associated with leafy greens more
than we do. These recent outbreaks have been tragic for the people
impacted by illnesses and costly to producers and our retail and
foodservice customers. We are working as hard as we can to prevent these
kinds of outbreaks from ever happening again.”