The debate about the effectiveness of private audit system within the produce industry rages on, spurred by the recent report of the government investigation on an outbreak of Listeria associated with cantaloupe in 2011. Yesterday, several opinion pieces appeared in the media. USA Today ran two editorials one from their own editorial board and the other from Produce Marketing Association Chief Science and Technology Officer Bob Whitaker. A third piece appeared in Food Safety News authored by Dr. David Acheson, former FDA Associate Commissioner for Foods.
What’s missing from this discussion -- other than a passing remark in the USA Today opinion piece -- is that there are programs like the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement which address many of the concerns now being raised about audit systems in the produce industry.
We have taken the opportunity previously to point out that our program has chosen to use government auditors to verify that food safety practices are in place on leafy greens farms – we believe that government auditors provide truly-independent food safety audits.
But we also want to stress – as Dr. Whitaker does in his USA Today piece – that any audit is only one part of a strong and successful food safety program. The LGMA’s food safety program includes a set of rigorous standards for growers to follow, a compliance program that requires corrective actions to be taken on all findings, and the ability to adapt and improve as research unveils more information about pathogen control on the farm.
Many other commodity groups are basing their food safety programs on the LGMA model including: Arizona leafy greens, California and Florida tomatoes; and now the California cantaloupe industry has announced plans to create a similar program as it works to regain consumer confidence in the wake of the Jensen Farms tragedy.
Over 200 billion servings of leafy greens have been produced under the LGMA; yet it is often overlooked in this debate. We believe the LGMA program provides a successful food safety model that can be applied across the produce industry, and we are happy to share with anyone who is interested.