Food safety audits of California’s leafy green growers increased substantially last year, according to an annual report from the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

The LGMA represents approximately 99 percent of the leafy greens produced in California with 110 active handler-members during the 2008-2009 fiscal year.

“The LGMA continues to grow and strengthen its commitment to public health through this program, which has now become a model for food safety programs in other states and for other commodities,” said LGMA Chief Executive Officer Scott Horsfall.

The report lists the LGMA’s 2008-2009 major accomplishments including:

• Mandatory government audits increased in quantity and rigor;

• The flexible nature of the LGMA’s food safety practices was demonstrated with the addition of important new “metrics” designed to prevent pathogens from entering leafy greens fields;

• A computerized database system was created to capture and maintain important information collected from each audit of leafy greens fields; • California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was formally recognized for his role in establishing the LGMA;

• Research results show that consumers have confidence in the LGMA program.

In 2008, 641 audits were conducted of leafy greens fields compared to 424 audits conducted during the LGMA’s first year of operation. In conjunction, 1,068 citations were issued during the 2008-2009 year versus 585 citations issued the previous year.

“We must keep in mind that the second year of operation for LGMA marked the first time a full year-long season of leafy greens production was inspected on a regular basis,” said Horsfall, explaining that audits did not begin in the initial year of LGMA operations until late July.

“What is important to note is the significant reduction in citations in the most serious categories that were issued this past year when compared to the prior year,” Horsfall said. “This indicates the very real commitment this industry is making to achieve compliance with the LGMA food safety practices.”

Horsfall says the majority of citation increases came in the two least serious categories.

“The increase in citations for Minor Deviations and Minor Infractions were the result of the longer inspection period as well as a greater emphasis on auditing practices in the field and the thoroughness of inspectors,” he explained, noting that the two citation classes are not considered to increase the risk of foodborne illness and require immediate corrective action.

Also new to the LGMA were a number of changes to the accepted food safety practices.

“Metrics are regularly reviewed by the LGMA Board to ensure the food safety standards checked during each government audit of leafy greens fields are based on the most current information available,” Horsfall said. “The additions made this year are good examples of flexibility of the LGMA program in adapting to advances in food safety.”

The full LGMA report is available online at www.lgma.ca.gov.