Brandon Bailey (a.k.a. “E. coli Reporter”) of the San Jose Mercury News wrote again this morning on the produce industries desire to have a “seal of approval” for leafy vegetables. See full article – “Plan for safer vegetables is already drawing critics”

However, what are the rules for getting the seal? As Mr. Bailey points out:

…. criteria for earning that seal won’t be determined until this spring. And some critics are already saying the industry’s proposal relies too heavily on policing itself. In coming weeks, an outspoken state legislator is expected to unveil his own plan for increasing the state’s role in setting safety standards and enforcing compliance.

The good news is that the industry and regulators are talking about it:

… The [California Department of Health] has scheduled a public hearing for 10 a.m. Friday [January 12] at the Monterey County Fairgrounds to gauge support for the growers’ proposal. The plan would implement new rules governing such practices as using compost for fertilizer, testing irrigation water and keeping livestock away from cropland. These are considered crucial because E. coli usually comes from the feces of cattle and other animals.

Here is the link to the Public Hearing Notice and the “Proposed Californina Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement.” However, other than wanting the public to simply believe in the seal and start buying the product again, I wonder how much public input the industry and Government really want:

… Consumer advocates say the specifics are crucial in judging whether the growers’ plan will be effective. For months, state and federal officials have been pushing the industry to compile an updated set of procedures known as “good agricultural practices,” and critics complain that the process is taking too long.

Politics is not too far away:

… State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, has criticized both the farm industry and state officials for their response to past E. coli outbreaks. He said elements of the growers’ proposal, including the initial voluntary compliance and the industry-dominated board, amount to “little more than the fox watching the henhouse.”

Me, I’m off to Washington DC this week to talk with Congressional leaders on tackling food safety hearings (See Mr. Bill goes to Washington). Perhaps on the way back to Seattle, I’ll stop in Monterey?  “What fox, what henhouse?”

  • Jay

    I’m sure that the growers would love to see you there.

  • This actually was an email I received:
    I think that focusing on the government in Washington will not address the issue of hazard identification and implementing effective controls. The government can provide money, but what we need are land and water farmers who can identify the significant hazards on their farms and institute effective controls.
    Just as the cook makes food safe in the kitchen by washing hands, purchasing from reputable sources, having a thermometer, cooking to desired temperatures, and cleaning cutting boards, etc., it will be the farmer who must assure the safety of the food and must sell food grown under controlled, safe conditions or conditions with known hazard levels so that the cook doesn’t have to overcook the ingredient to make the food safe.
    It is obvious that inspection without adequate education of the cook / farmer does not assure safety. All of the universities in the U.S., especially the land grant schools, have extension programs in place, funded by the government, with highly trained scientists who have an in-depth knowledge of food safety. These educators have the responsibility to make farmers more competent, but many focus on growing more, not safer, because that is a focus of USDA. They are ready to go and, if given the word, could, tomorrow, begin helping farmers identify hazards and controls and implement HACCP plans. They already have a mission to educate the farmers in their states. When there are questions about controls and critical limits, they are trained to do the research for the farmer and publish. The FDA especially has no such capability to validate farm HACCP processes. They ask industry for solutions.
    These educators can also review the HACCP plans of the farmers. There are extension people for meat science, fish, produce, wine, and for all of the food groups. We shouldn’t forget the bakery products, the jams and jellies, and other products, which all need manufacturing HACCP programs to assure that the hazards in what the manufacturer ships meet food safety objectives to protect consumer health.
    Another simple requirement that Washington could require would be to have the farmer put a little sheet of paper in every box of product / produce, etc., listing the hazards and what the farmer did to eliminate, prevent, or reduce the hazards to a safe level, as taught to him/her by the extension educator. This is similar to the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). All the state or federal inspector has to do when making an audit is to ask the farmer to demonstrate / show proof of control.
    In summary, if you get Washington to simply focus on the person who has to control the hazards, either the land or water farmer, and the educators assigned to make them more competent, we can control the hazards tomorrow. Everything is in place. We just need for there to be a focus. It would help to also give them additional funding. This way, we would have control of the hazards tomorrow, instead of waiting for Washington to get educated and write controls for the hazards, because that will take many years.