A model consumer food safety program has completed more than 500 inspections in its first year thanks to the California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

In 2007, California farmers came together to raise the bar for food safety. As a result the LGMA was formed as members work collaboratively to protect public health by reducing potential sources of contamination in California-grown leafy greens.

There have been no confirmed major incidents since the creation of the LGMA, which has received very favorable reviews from an independent panel of academics.

“The LGMA represents an unprecedented commitment to food safety and public health,” said Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer with LGMA. “While there is always much more work to be done, the leafy greens industry has come a long way in the last twelve months.”

At the heart of the LGMA program is the mandatory government inspection program which certifies that member companies are implementing food safety practices, which were developed by university and industry scientists, food safety experts, farmers, shippers and processors.

These food safety practices were also reviewed by state and federal government health agencies. All LGMA member companies are subject to mandatory government inspections on a regular, but random basis, to ensure LGMA-accepted food safety practices are being implemented.

The inspections are conducted by California Department of Food and Agriculture inspectors who receive special training and certification from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Currently, LGMA members represent over 99 percent of the volume of leafy green products produced in California. If an LGMA member is found to be out of compliance with the established food safety practices, they can be decertified from the program. Buyers of leafy green products support the LGMA program by only purchasing these products from certified member companies.

Recent research shows that the leafy green industry’s approach to food safety can generate very favorable opinions among consumers. In a nationwide survey conducted in early 2008, 89 percent of consumers had a favorable opinion of the required food safety program including mandatory government inspections. And, 70 percent said the LGMA food safety program raised their confidence in the safety of leafy greens.

Further, almost 60 percent of consumers believe food safety is better protected by a program that employs government oversight and mandatory government inspections rather than private auditing companies following a set by individual companies.

Fourteen leafy green products are covered by the LGMA including: Arugula; Butter Lettuce; Chard; Escarole; Iceberg Lettuce; Spinach; Red Leaf Lettuce; Baby Leaf Lettuce; Cabbage Endive; Green Leaf Lettuce; Kale; Romaine Lettuce; and Spring Mix.