Sacramento, CA -- In light of the House Energy and Commerce Committee report issued yesterday on the outbreak of Listeria associated with Colorado-based Jensen Farms cantaloupe, a California-based food safety program is echoing the benefits of government involvement in food safety inspections.
“When our program was formed in 2007, it was very clear to our industry that mandatory government oversight was the best way to verify compliance with food safety standards,” said Scott Horsfall, President and CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement. “Government inspectors are uniquely positioned to provide independent food safety audits because they are a true independent third-party audit with safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest.”
Horsfall noted the Congressional report and other food safety advocates emphasize the need for government oversight of food safety inspectors. He explained that government oversight is what makes the LGMA program different from most others in the produce industry. He added, however, that programs similar to the LGMA exist for Arizona leafy greens as well as for California and Florida tomatoes.
Horsfall explained in that in California, both the LGMA and the California Tomato Farmers cooperative programs work by verifying through mandatory announced and unannounced government inspections that farmers are following a set of science-based food safety practices. The programs utilize inspectors who are employed by the California Department of Food and Agricultural and certified through the United States Department of Agriculture. The inspectors are licensed auditors who undergo rigorous training in fundamental auditing standards and receive additional training for commodity-specific programs.
Horsfall further stated that these programs are unique because: the system of government audits is transparent and public; auditors are required by law to report threats to public health to the appropriate government agency; there are no direct financial interests between auditors and farmers; and, the government inspection program has over 100 years of experience in providing government services including inspections, audits and development of regulatory standards. He also noted that any citations issued by government inspectors must be corrected and that a re-inspection is conducted to verify that corrections have been made. Members who fail to comply are decertified from the program and their names are posted on the Internet.
“All of this drives continuous improvement of food safety practices throughout the farming operation and goes well beyond a food safety audit which may occur just once during the farming season,” said Horsfall. “Our programs also stress outreach and education throughout our memberships to ensure all parties are well versed on the latest science and research concerning food safety practices.”
Horsfall added the science-based metrics, or food safety practices, which are verified through the audit, are developed through an independent and transparent process and that they are regularly updated and improved.
“No food safety system is perfect,” said Horsfall. “We must always seek to improve and adjust to changes and new information. In fact, there is a lot we will probably learn by further review of the cantaloupe investigation. The goal is to create a culture of food safety in our operations and this is something we have succeeded in doing. It is the right thing to do.”