My milkshake is better than yours; will government make spinach and lettuce safer?
Posted: April 29th, 2011 - 1:54pm
The folks that produce fresh spinach and lettuce are channeling their inner Milkshake, dialing back to late 2003 when weblogs or blogs began to emerge in force, and launched their own blog – last week.
The awkwardly named Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement – LGMA for funksters – is starting a “new dialogue on leafy greens food safety” with at least two blog posts a month.
Lowered expectations is good, especially when LGMA is eight years late to the blogshpere and about 10 years late to the food-safety-in-produce thing. The worst is to start a web page or a blog and then not follow through. Listeria-stricken Maple Leaf Foods hasn’t posted anything new on its Journey-inspired Our Journey to Food Safety Leadership, since Nov. 2010. Maybe they are on other journeys, looking for that small town girl.
LGMA chairman Jamie Strachan wrote in the inaugural blog on April 14, 2011, that it’s been four years since this “first-of-its-kind program began. It hasn't been easy, but the very fact that the LGMA exists today is proof that the challenges of implementing a comprehensive food safety system for an entire commodity can be overcome.”
LGMA didn’t invent it. Lots of groups have marketing orders. We did the whole food safety thing with the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Marketing Board – as it was called back then – in 2000.
Chairman Strachan also writes, “I'm often asked, ‘How do you know the LGMA is working?’
“The answer to that question is simple — the LGMA is working to establish a culture of food safety on leafy greens farms. Most farmers will tell you that leafy greens were safe before the LGMA came along, but what is changed today is the high level of attention food safety on the farm now receives. Everyone involved in operations, from the farmer to the harvesters, know and understand that food safety considerations are ALWAYS top of mind.”
That’s not verification. And people who write in all caps are YELLING to get attention, maybe because their writing sucks.
They’ve got the rhetoric; where’s the reality?
There have been many reinterpretations of history regarding fresh produce and microbial food safety. We have argued the tipping point was 1996, involving both the Odwalla E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in unpasteurized juice, coupled with the cyclospora outbreak which was initially and erroneously linked to California strawberries (it was Guatemalan raspberries). This led to the first attempts at comprehensive on-farm food safety programs for fresh produce because, these bugs ain’t going to be washed off; they have to be prevented, as much as possible, from getting on or in fresh produce on the farm.
For the growers of leafy greens, things apparently didn’t tip until the 2006 E. coli O157:H7 outbreak in bagged spinach from California that sickened 200 and killed four, despite 29 previous outbreaks and years of warning from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
A table of leafy green foodborne illness outbreaks is available at:
Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided proposed to take LGMA national.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is requesting comment on the creation of a voluntary National Leafy Green Marketing Agreement (NLGMA) that would assist all segments of the leafy green industry in meeting commercial food quality and safety requirements.”
Full justification for the proposed rule is available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5077207
When we were hanging out with greenhouse tomato growers, the joke we got familiar with was:
“What’s the worst thing you can say to a farmer?”
“Hi, I’m from the government, I’m here to help.”
If the government needs to be involved, things have really gone bad.
Should a federal food safety program be based on LGMA, a group that was dragged to the food safety party and is always behind?
Stop waiting for government. And stop channeling Kelis. Make test results public, market food safety at retail so consumers can choose, and if people get sick from your product, be the first to tell the public.