Valley Growers Hold Themselves to High Food Safety Standards
iv press • ivvga executive director kay pricola
Imperial Valley leafy greens farmers are on the cutting edge of food safety when it comes to what they are growing in the fields, many voluntarily ramping up their efforts to ensure what ends up in our stores and our dinner tables is the highest quality produce and meeting the toughest standards. It only makes sense that our local growers take such an active role when it comes to food safety in their leafy green crops. Imperial Valley—and really all of California—is a leading producer of leafy lettuce, Romaine, Iceberg, spinach and cabbage. California’s production numbers are as follows:
California Salad Production
California Farming Map
THE DESERT REGION
Farmers in the Desert Region grow lettuce and other leafy green products in the winter months allowing consumers to enjoy fresh salad all year long.
THE CENTRAL COAST
The Central Coast is the largest growing region with many farms around the cities of Salinas, Santa Maria and Oxnard. Most products are grown here from April to November. Some products can be grown year-round.
THE SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY
The San Joaquin Valley region, spanning the middle of the state, has two brief growing seasons in the spring and fall that fills the gap between Central Coast and Desert lettuce production.
In 2007 growers in these areas, plus the ones in Arizona, recognized the need for a food safety program that verifies science-based farming practices using government audits and requires 100 percent compliance. The program was designed with a set of checks and balances to ensure leafy greens farmers do all they can to protect public health by establishing a culture of food safety on the farm. On a voluntary basis, the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement(LGMA) was created. Growers created a set of standards and committed to the compliance of those standards. California has an LGMA, as does Arizona. For the last 10 years, these farmers have voluntarily operated under these self-imposed standards. To see who is participating go to http://www.lgma.ca.gov/certified-members/. Many of the farmers here are growing leafy greens for the likes of Church Brothers, Taylor Farms, Lakeside Organics and Coastline to name a few of the major brand names. Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association is proud to include them in our membership.
The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama on Jan. 4, 2011. It aims to ensure the U.S. food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. This new focus will now apply to all growers, shippers, distribution and retail companies who handle or process any food products grown in the United States. It mirrored many of the standards established by the two LGMA associations.
A great deal of effort was made to ensure that the standards, first established by LGMA and now the U.S. Department of Agricultural with the FSMA, were fair, science based, and could be measured.
On Jan. 26, 2018, the Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Safety Rule officially went into effect. To ensure that all aspects of the new rule are understood, at least one employee from each growing operation must complete an official Produce Safety Alliance Produce Rule training course. For us here, that means another job for our bright young adults. In many cases the training needs to be in Spanish.
Each day of the harvest, the crews are briefed on the various aspects of food safety. This is done by the crew leader. While many of the crews heard the same briefing the day prior, like a TV commercial, the message is repeated over and over to ensure that each crew member understands the importance of food safety for the food that you, your family and their families purchase and consume. “The safety of food for your family and mine is of the upmost importance,” stated Jack Vessey, President of Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association and former board member of the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement Board of Directors.
On a personal note, my extended family back in Texas was in the grocery business. I watched the trucks arrive with fresh produce from Ben E. Keith each day, with no thought as to its source. We took the fresh vegetable home, and I think they were washed. I did not pay attention. It was not until I was visiting a distant family member in one of those more exotic locations that I observed vegetables being washed… well, really scrubbed with soap… that I thought about food safety. Now I know here in the United States and for our farmers who grow in Mexico, their food safety efforts are science based and done with our safety in mind every step of the way. Thank you, farmers, for your voluntary participation in the LGMA process.
Published in the IV Press, April 5, 2018