It’s been five years since this unprecedented food safety program was created to protect public health by establishing a culture of food safety on leafy greens farms. As it was back in 2007, the California LGMA is currently led by a group of proactive and like-minded leafy greens handlers, growers and shippers. Recently, the LGMA leadership met to revisit the goals and objectives established five years ago and update them to address current realities.
At its inception, the LGMA was a unique program forging new ground for produce food safety. Created in response to the tragedy of the 2006 spinach outbreak, the California leafy greens industry vowed not to forget the victims. Over the years the industry has demonstrated a widespread commitment to protecting public health by establishing a culture of food safety throughout their individual organizations and farms. Today 99% of the leafy greens produced in California come from 115 LGMA members, their growers and harvest crews. Arizona is another substantial leafy greens producer and has established a sister program – combined approximately 90% of U.S. leafy greens production is grown and harvested in accordance with the LGMA program.
Since that first year, the LGMA has conducted a total of 2,585 audits (over 400,000 checkpoints) and over 200 billion servings of leafy greens have been grown under this system of mandatory government inspection. That is an average of more than 500 audits annually, with each LGMA member being audited once every two months in production and undergoing one unannounced audit annually.
On average there have been approximately 1,000 audit citations issued annually, all of which must be corrected for an LGMA member to be certified. Minor infractions are corrected on-site and account for 31% of all citations. Minor deviations require a Corrective Action Plan be submitted in 5 days and account for 64% of all citations. Major deviations account for about 5% of all citations and are subject to re-audit in three days. Flagrant violations account for less than 0.2% of all citations and can lead to decertification. Over the life of the program 6 companies have been decertified for non-compliance and two companies who were not yet certified were declared ineligible for certification until the next calendar year.
The reins of the organization have passed once since 2007 with Jamie Strachan, Growers Express, replacing the first LGMA Chairman Joe Pezzini, Ocean Mist, in 2010 and the organization prepares to vote in a new Chairman in 2012. LGMA CEO Scott Horsfall and his staff continue to effectively manage the organization. Over the years, assessment rates have dropped and inspection costs have decreased as the program becomes increasingly more efficient. An impressive training program has been added to the LGMA offerings to assist handlers and work crews to ensure everyone knows and understands the importance of food safety on the farm.
In the past five years, the LGMA program has continued to evolve and grow, although its mission remains focused on assuring safe products and confidence in leafy greens. During a recent strategic planning process, the LGMA Board approved a set of priorities which include: attaining global food safety certification; engaging regulators on food safety; increasing industry education and working to establish the LGMA a resource on leafy greens food safety. Yes, the LGMA has come a long way in five years. And while the program is continually working to improve, the most important outcome of the LGMA is that the industry and its loyal consumers have not repeated the tragic events of 2006. We continue to work hard to ensure it never happens again.