Food safety is on everyone’s mind in Salinas

Food safety, two simple with words with a powerful punch.

Last fall’s E. coli contamination in Salinas was a tragedy of epic proportion. Dozens sickened in 15 states and all romaine lettuce deemed unsafe to eat from supermarkets and at restaurants across the country.

During the outbreak, authorities believed the tainted romaine originated from the Central Coast area but there was “no common grower, supplier, distributor, or brand of romaine lettuce has been identified,” the Centers for Disease Control stated at the time. As a result, growers and packers started labeling bags and tags with the harvest location.

The source of the E. coli was attributed to contaminated water, so steps were immediately taken to expand buffer zones between fields an animal pastures. While there are strict implementations at all levels of the supply chain, the enduring challenge with produce is its very nature: it’s consumed fresh and uncooked.

“Local growers produce the safest, most affordable food supply in the world when it comes to fresh, perishable crops,” said Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau. “The California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) is always looking into ways to improve food safety, but it’s costly for growers.

“The LGMA originated here in the Salinas Valley in 2008 as a response to a specific food safety issue,” he said. “Growers and processors are proud of the progress in food safety the industry has made over the past decade and have kept it mostly industry driven.

“My impression is consumers are aware but mostly take for granted that there are extensive food safety measures in place, from field to retailer,” Groot said . “The Center for Produce Safety is integrated into food safety measures, but local growers rely on LGMA for metrics and improved methods.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.