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California growers approve plan to improve food safety

The LA Times and the San Jose Mercury News both report that the California Department of Food and Agriculture approved a farm industry plan to establish voluntary safety standards for leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and spinach.

The plan, which was approved by 70 percent of California’s leafy greens packagers and distributors, establishes a “seal of approval” for leafy greens that are grown and handled according to the new standards.

Under the plan, the agriculture department will appoint a panel of industry representatives that will have authority to enact safety rules. The state will provide inspectors to help ensure compliance, but the industry board will administer the program and make enforcement decisions.

As a first step, the program focuses on “handlers” — companies that package or distribute vegetables. Those that choose to participate would agree to make sure that their growers comply with the new rules.

The Western Growers Association and other fresh produce trade groups stated that self-regulation was the fastest way to make changes in the industry; however, consumer groups have expressed concern over the industry’s ability to police itself. California Senator Dean Florez last week introduced legislation that would require the California Department of Health Services to develop and enforce food safety standards.

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