A new video produced by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LMGA) and the STOP Foodborne Illness organization is designed to educate agricultural workers on the frontlines – including fields and processing facilities – on ways to further improve food safety.
Ryan Talley, LGMA chair, says, “Training is a critical tool in making sure everyone on our farms knows about and understands proper food safety practices.”
It’s also important for employees to understand why food safety is so important, says Talley.
According to the LGMA, the video will be another important tool to enhance the culture of food safety that exists on leafy greens farms today.
The video features the voices and faces of two people impacted by foodborne illness, says Deirdre Schlunegger, chief executive officer of STOP.
One of those is Lauren Bush, who as a college junior ate a spinach salad which made her sick and changed her life. The first sign of illness was diarrhea followed by brain and heart swelling and other medical problems.
Bush fell ill in 2003 after consuming California-grown spinach tainted with E. coli bacteria, Escherichia coli O157:H7. The outbreak killed three people and sickened hundreds of others.
While the loss of life and illness are tragic, agricultural industry estimates suggest the breakdown in food safety cost the leafy greens industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost sales as many consumers quit eating many leafy greens for several years.
The LGMA was founded after the spinach outbreak to develop plans, including best management practices, to reduce potential foodborne illness outbreaks in the future.
A sister program, though slightly different, is in place in Arizona winter vegetable production.
In the video, LGMA member Dan Sutton, general manager of Pismo Oceano Vegetable Growers Exchange located on California’s Central Coast, says, “We (industry) are doing things the right way…trying harder and training more.”
Today, Sutton shares the stories of those injured by the 2003 tainted spinach outbreak with farm employees; telling them that food safety starts with them.
The LGMA says effective training of agricultural workers is critical since they are on the frontlines of food safety.
Communication is key
On camera, Arturo Sanchez, LGMA member and general manager of Faurot Ranch, says, “Communications is the most important thing. If someone sees something that could be a contaminant, tell someone.”
Under the LGMA program, more than 50 billion servings of leafy greens are produced annually.
Sutton adds there is no guarantee that a foodborne illness will never happen again. Yet, the industry is doing everything humanly possible to keep it from re-occurring.
A guarantee is impossible since most leafy greens are grown outside with no ceiling or walls to keep potential contaminates at bay.
The video is part of the LGMA Tech training program.