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Microgreens: tiny greens with huge flavor

Microgreens: tiny greens with huge flavor

The market for mircogreens is holding steady this year but seeing prices lower than average as more growers continue to enter the market. Some of these growers are attempting to capitalize on the locally grown movement to sell their products. The majority of sales belong to the foodservice, mostly fine dining segment of the industry as microgreens are still relatively new to the public.  “The consumer market is growing,” explains David Sasuga of Fresh Origins Farms, “but still very new to most consumers.”

Demand is increasing for microgreens that are properly grown to produce the highest quality.    Microgreens grow best in bright, natural sunlight, and mild temperatures.  This makes a huge difference in the quality, flavor and shelf-life.  Microgreens grown in less than ideal climates often do not compare in flavor or quality.  Fresh Origins in San Diego, California with 800,000 square feet of production and Koppert Cress of Cutchogue, New York with 150,000 square feet of glass greenhouses are two of the largest producers who have seen a steady increase in volume and acreage.  “We work hard to provide the highest quality microgreens” states Sasuga, “We have a very large selection, consistent availability and a strict food safety program”.

Microgreens, which are seedlings of vegetables and herbs, are typically grown by traditional methods and sold as pre-cut. There are a small number of growers offering living trays as an alternative.  Koppert Cress offers hydroponically grown living microgreens to eliminate the aspect of dirt which allows chefs to use the product right out of the kitchen.  “We specialize in delivering very strong flavor”, states Nicolas Mazard, manager of Koppert Cress USA.  “We find specific varieties and trace them back to their origin or heirloom variety. The taste is much more flavorful as it hasn’t been crossbred”.  Most growers harvest microgreens at a young age of two to four weeks, cutting them just above the soil.  They are packed in clear clamshell containers for shipping.

Pests are not a significant issue for microgreen growers, since the crop times are too fast for insects to get established.  Disease can be a major problem under high humidity, extreme climates, and in and low light conditions. Although grown within a greenhouse operation, the weather can strongly  affect these young seedlings. “Winter for us means the days are a bit shorter and a little cooler so our crop-times will increase,” explains Sasuga, “This means all of our greenhouse space will be fully utilized.”

A 2012 study conducted at the University of Maryland analyzed the nutritional value of microgreens, however the high percentage of nutrients listed were compared to old data and questionable comparisons. A new study for microgreens is currently being conducted to more accurately assess the amount of nutrients.

The vast majority of microgreens are used in restaurants.  It is yet to be determined if the public will create increased demand in North America.  Home cooks want to recreate the fine dining restaurant experience at home for their meals by using microgreens.  They also see them being used on the Food Network.  microgreens are a natural choice to deliver great flavor and good looks to any dish.  Not conventional herbs or vegetables, microgreens are available in a wide variety such as basil, carrot and wasabi to spice up food. “They are growing more and more popular because of their flavor profile,” Mazard explains, “They’re a flavor ingredient, like spices, but living, or fresh-cut, they are healthy, delicious, and much more interesting.”

For more information:

Nicolas Mazard
Manager
Koppert Cress USA
Tel: 631-734-8500
Fax: 631-734- 8499
http://usa.koppertcress.com

David Sasuga
Fresh Origins Farms
[email protected]
http://www.freshorigins.com

Publication date: 11/28/2014
Author: Kayleigh Csaszar
Copyright: www.freshplaza.com


FreshPlaza.com

New charges delay union vote at Mrs. Green’s

A planned union vote at Mrs. Green’s Natural Markets has been canceled at the request of the union so that federal authorities can investigate new allegations that the retailer violated worker rights to organize in the weeks leading up to the vote.

The retailer subsequently denied the charges, and called them a delay tactic.

The vote had been scheduled to take place Oct. 17, but a memo from the National Labor Relations Board issued Oct. 16 said the union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, requested that the vote be canceled so as to allow the agency to investigate, among other charges, allegations that certain workers saw their hours cut as a result of their support of a union, and were told they would not get raises as a result of the activity.

The Mount Kisco, N.Y., store has been the scene of long-standing tension between workers and the retailer, resulting in the firing — and subsequent court-ordered rehiring — of eight workers said to have supported formation of a union at the store. The workers were fired following a failed union vote there in 2013.

“Mrs. Green’s management is clearly intimidated by their employees banding together to collectively demand more from their employer, and the company has repeatedly shown they are willing to do whatever it takes, including breaking federal labor laws, to keep the union out,” UFCW Local 1500 president Bruce Both said in a statement.


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A spokesman for Mrs. Green’s parent Natural Markets Food Group told SN: “It is apparent that union bosses are using these desperate delay tactics because they believed Mrs. Green’s associates — in a secret, government-supervised election — would vote against them.

“But delaying the vote won’t hide reality: the entire family at Mrs. Green’s Natural Market — from the company leadership to our customers —has never been prouder of its hard-working associates. It is why we provide them with industry-leading benefits and promotional opportunities from within. Most important, the Mrs. Green’s family listens to and respects our associates. We always will.

“We hope these meritless accusations can get resolved quickly so that associates can have the right to choose for themselves.”

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ISU Food Safety Campaign Focuses on Leafy Greens

Because leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are often a source of contamination, Iowa State University researchers are targeting their safe handling in an effort to protect older adults, who are particularly susceptible to severe illness or death in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Dr. Susan W. Arendt, associate professor of hospitality management at Iowa State, said that, with a growing aging population in the U.S., it’s critical to focus on food safety in operations that serve older adults. Proper handling and preparation of leafy greens will help reduce the number of food poisoning cases, she added.

Arendt is leading a team of researchers observing how food service workers in restaurants, hospitals, and assisted living and long-term care facilities handle, prepare and serve leafy greens. Employees were also interviewed about the steps they follow in the kitchen. The research team took swabs of utensils and food contact surfaces at different times throughout the process to measure bacteria levels and contamination.

“We want to make sure leafy greens are served safely. Employees in these facilities are really the last line of defense in protecting against foodborne illnesses. Proper handling of leafy greens is especially important because they are mostly served raw,” Arendt said, adding, “We identified several potential problems that could lead to contamination.”

The purpose of the two-year study, funded by the USDA, is to educate food service employees on how to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Based on their observations, researchers developed a series of posters to use at each facility. The team plans to return to each location for follow-up testing and observations to see if the educational campaign had an impact.

Researchers wanted a simple and effective way to deliver the information to employees who are working in a fast-paced environment. Instead of requiring classroom training or providing material for the employees to read, the posters hit on key messages and use several visuals to make a point. Arendt said the material will also be translated into Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

“We know that food service directors do not have a lot of time to search for materials that are beneficial for their employees. With a minimal amount of text, we hope the posters will reach a broad audience, regardless of language or reading skills,” she said.

One poster features images of the germs found on your hands after touching a phone or your face, or if your hands are not properly washed. Arendt said those germs can easily be transferred to lettuce or spinach if the food is not handled properly, thereby increasing the chances for contamination.

Another poster illustrates how to handle and store pre-packaged or bagged vegetables — it does not recommend washing the produce after opening the package. It’s a precaution many people may take following the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. However, Arendt said bagged produce is triple-washed and extra handling before serving is an added risk. The Food and Drug Administration also states that it’s not necessary to wash pre-washed produce.

Arendt told Food Safety News that all nine of the posters produced from the research team’s work will be available for free (including those translated into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) at this website early in the fall.

Iowa State researchers Catherine Strohbehn, adjunct professor of hospitality management; Lakshman Rajagopal, associate professor of hospitality management, and Angela Shaw, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Arendt on the project. Kevin Sauer, associate professor at Kansas State University, is also part of the team.

Food Safety News

ISU Food Safety Campaign Focuses on Leafy Greens

Because leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach are often a source of contamination, Iowa State University researchers are targeting their safe handling in an effort to protect older adults, who are particularly susceptible to severe illness or death in foodborne illness outbreaks.

Dr. Susan W. Arendt, associate professor of hospitality management at Iowa State, said that, with a growing aging population in the U.S., it’s critical to focus on food safety in operations that serve older adults. Proper handling and preparation of leafy greens will help reduce the number of food poisoning cases, she added.

Arendt is leading a team of researchers observing how food service workers in restaurants, hospitals, and assisted living and long-term care facilities handle, prepare and serve leafy greens. Employees were also interviewed about the steps they follow in the kitchen. The research team took swabs of utensils and food contact surfaces at different times throughout the process to measure bacteria levels and contamination.

“We want to make sure leafy greens are served safely. Employees in these facilities are really the last line of defense in protecting against foodborne illnesses. Proper handling of leafy greens is especially important because they are mostly served raw,” Arendt said, adding, “We identified several potential problems that could lead to contamination.”

The purpose of the two-year study, funded by the USDA, is to educate food service employees on how to minimize the risk of cross-contamination. Based on their observations, researchers developed a series of posters to use at each facility. The team plans to return to each location for follow-up testing and observations to see if the educational campaign had an impact.

Researchers wanted a simple and effective way to deliver the information to employees who are working in a fast-paced environment. Instead of requiring classroom training or providing material for the employees to read, the posters hit on key messages and use several visuals to make a point. Arendt said the material will also be translated into Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

“We know that food service directors do not have a lot of time to search for materials that are beneficial for their employees. With a minimal amount of text, we hope the posters will reach a broad audience, regardless of language or reading skills,” she said.

One poster features images of the germs found on your hands after touching a phone or your face, or if your hands are not properly washed. Arendt said those germs can easily be transferred to lettuce or spinach if the food is not handled properly, thereby increasing the chances for contamination.

Another poster illustrates how to handle and store pre-packaged or bagged vegetables — it does not recommend washing the produce after opening the package. It’s a precaution many people may take following the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. However, Arendt said bagged produce is triple-washed and extra handling before serving is an added risk. The Food and Drug Administration also states that it’s not necessary to wash pre-washed produce.

Arendt told Food Safety News that all nine of the posters produced from the research team’s work will be available for free (including those translated into Spanish and Mandarin Chinese) at this website early in the fall.

Iowa State researchers Catherine Strohbehn, adjunct professor of hospitality management; Lakshman Rajagopal, associate professor of hospitality management, and Angela Shaw, assistant professor of food science and human nutrition, are working with Arendt on the project. Kevin Sauer, associate professor at Kansas State University, is also part of the team.

Food Safety News

Michel out as Mrs. Green’s CEO

Natural Markets Food Group, parent of the Mrs. Green’s Natural Markets chain, is expected to name a new CEO shortly to replace Robin Michel.

Michel, appointed CEO of fast-growing natural and organic chain in late 2012, is transitioning to a senior advisor role with Catalyst Capital Group, parent of NMFG. She will continue to lend her expertise to other lines of business within the Catalyst portfolio, the com[any said.

The leadership transition was first reported by Food Trade News.


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“As Natural Markets Food Group enters a new chapter of its growth strategy and market positioning, I am excited to transition from CEO to senior advisor and have the ability to look at other businesses,” Michel said in a statement. “The board and I both agree that now is the right time to add to our leadership team – this enables NMFG to continue its laser-focused approach on customers who value an organic and healthy lifestyle.”

Sources told SN the chain was expected to name a new CEO shortly.

Michel, a former president at Ahold’s Giant-Landover chain and senior executive at Sears, has led Mrs. Green’s on an aggressive store expansion and building program, leading to new sites in Virginia, New Jersey, Chicago and Connecticut in recent months. The chain also launched a loyalty card and a profit sharing program for the first time. Michel also oversaw the wind-down of the hybrid Fresh & Green’s chain, which NMFG operated in some former SuperFresh sites in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

“Given that NMFG has no debt on the balance sheet, EBITDA grew by 60% in 2013, and revenue is up 30% year-to-date; now is an opportunity to transition Robin to a new role and build off of the successes we have already seen,” Brian Shelton, CFO, said.

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WP Rawl launches ‘Nature’s Greens’ kale chips kit

WP Rawl has introduced a new product to its “Nature’s Greens” brand line. The new ready-to-bake kale chips kit showcases the versatility of kale and will be launching soon at various retailers throughout the country.kalechipskit

The 12-ounce kale chips kit includes a seasoning packet and pre-cut kale. All that is needed to prepare are two tablespoons of olive oil. One bag yields 16 cups, making the kit a great value compared to ready-to-eat kale chips.

“With pre-made kale chips increasing in popularity over the past few years, we have been discussing ways to get in on the trend,” Ashley Rawl, director of sales, marketing and product development for WP Rawl, based in Pelion, SC, said in a press release. “As the category leader in leafy greens, we decided the best way to provide great value to our consumers was to add a healthier and less expensive alternative.”

The Nature’s Green kale chips kit will launch with Chili & Lime seasoning, with additional flavors rolling out later this summer.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

CFIA tests show no pathogens on 99.9 percent of leafy greens

With new federal produce safety standards coming soon, the leafy greens industry could use some good news and, last month, Canadian authorities reassured consumers that leafy greens are safe to eat after reporting over 99.9 percent of fresh leafy greens it tested had no detectable pathogens.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency tested 4,250 samples of domestic and imported, whole and fresh-cut fresh leafy vegetables available at retail in Canada as part of a five-year project. Starting in 2008-09, CFIA has collected more than 10,000 samples, many of which are still being analyzed.

But so far, CFIA found that 99.9 percent of leafy greens had no detectable level of the following pathogens: Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, E. coli O157:NM and generic E. coli, in addition to Listeria monocytogenes for fresh-cut samples.

Twelve samples were considered “unsatisfactory” during the 2009-10 study due to the presence of Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, and/or high levels of generic E. coli, CFIA reported. None of the samples were found to be positive for E. coli O157:H7 or E. coli O157:NM, however. Two products ended up being recalled and no illnesses were linked to the products.

“The overall finding of this survey suggests that the vast majority of leafy green vegetables in the Canadian market are produced and handled under good agricultural and manufacturing practices,” CFIA said. “However, vegetable contamination with E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella could sporadically occur.”

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines – The Produce News – Covering fresh produce around the globe since 1897.

European Food Safety Authority Addresses Pathogen Risks of Leafy Greens

The European Food Safety Authority’s Panel on Biological Hazards has issued the first of five scientific opinions requested by the European Commission. The first one, published Thursday, addresses the public health risk posed by Salmonella and norovirus on leafy greens eaten raw as salads.

The panel considered risk factors along the whole food chain, including agricultural production and processing. Members concluded that, while each farm environment is different, the primary objectives for producers should include good agricultural practices (GAP), good hygiene practices (GHP) and good manufacturing practices.

However, the panel also noted that “the current legal framework does not include microbiological criteria applicable at primary production which will validate and verify GAP and GHP. It is proposed to define a criterion at primary production of leafy greens which is designated as Hygiene Criterion, and E. coli was identified as suitable for this purpose.”

Panel members further stated that studies “on the prevalence and infectivity of norovirus are limited, and quantitative data on viral load are scarce, making establishment of microbiological criteria for norovirus on leafy greens difficult.”

Main risk factors cited were: environmental factors such as proximity to animal-rearing operations, heavy rainfall causing floods, contact with domestic or wild animal reservoirs, use of untreated or insufficiently treated manure or compost, use of contaminated agricultural water for irrigation or pesticide treatments, and harvest and post-harvest on-farm cross-contamination by food handlers and equipment.

“For both Salmonella and norovirus, processes at primary production which wet the edible portions of the crop represent the highest risk and these include spraying prior to harvest, direct application of fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals and overhead irrigation. Subsurface or drip irrigation which results in no wetting of the edible portions of the plants are of lower risk,” the panel’s opinion stated.

Within the scope of the panel’s opinion were leafy greens eaten raw and minimally processed.

“Technologies currently available for use by the leafy greens industry fall short of being able to guarantee an absence of Salmonella or norovirus on leafy greens at primary production,” the panel stated.

Food Safety News

Mrs. Green’s sets growth plan

Mrs. Green’s Natural Market on Tuesday announced it planned to open more than 20 new stores this year, more than doubling the size of the Irvington, N.Y.-based natural foods retailer.


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Grand openings will occur in West Windsor, N.J., on March 28 and in New Canaan, Conn., on April 11. The company said additional locations would be announced in coming weeks and include stores in in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Alberta.

Mrs. Green’s, founded in 1990, currently operates 18 stores. The company said it planned to have 40 stores open by the end of this year and 100 over the next few years.

“Mrs. Green’s has spent a lot of time carefully researching potential areas for expansion,” CEO Robin S. Michel said in a statement. “We’re excited to bring our passion for all that is good to these new communities.”

Mrs. Green’s stores feature all-organic produce, all-natural meats and dairy — no added preservatives, dyes or hormones — fair trade coffee, fresh bakery departments and local selections.

“Mrs. Green’s Natural Market is based upon the idea that good food is both good for you and good for the environment,” Michel said. “Every product in our store is organic or all-natural. We want to provide our customers with safe, healthy food options that will help them to take care of their health, while also taking care of our planet.”

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Fluctuating Temperatures Increase E. Coli, Listeria Risk in Leafy Greens

A new study has found that fluctuating in temperature during transportation and retail sale of leafy greens negatively impacts both the product’s quality and microbial safety.

In a study published in the February issue of Journal of Food Protection, researchers looked at the growth of E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes in commercially-bagged salad greens.

Over a 16-month period, a series of time-temperature profiles from thousands of bagged salads were obtained from five transportation routes covering four geographic regions, as well as during retail storage and display.

“Based on the simulation, both pathogens generally increased <2 log CFU/g during transport, storage, and display,” the authors wrote. “However, retail storage duration can significantly impact pathogen growth.”

They added that this was the first large-scale study in the U.S. to use commercial time-temperature profiles to assess the microbial risk of leafy greens and that it “should be useful in filling some of the data gaps in current risk assessments for leafy greens.”

Food Safety News

Mrs. Green’s makes Va. debut Friday

Mrs. Green’s Natural Market is scheduled to open its first Mid-Atlantic outpost this Friday in Fairfax, Va.


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The fast-growing chain of natural/specialty stores, owned by Natural Markets Food Group, Irvington, N.Y., operates most of its 18 locations in suburban New York, but also has stores in Connecticut and one each in Chicago and in Calgary, Alberta. It has openings planned in West Windsor, N.J., and in Manhattan’s West Village, in addition to more locations in Connecticut.

The Fairfax store, located in the Fair Lakes Shopping Center, will be a short distance from both a Walmart and a Whole Foods. A Harris Teeter and a Safeway are also within about two miles of Mrs. Green’s Fairfax location.

Natural Markets Food Group group is owned by Toronto-based investor Catalyst Capital Group, and is headed by Robin Michel, former president of Ahold’s Giant-Landover chain.

Read more: Mrs. Green’s eyes growth, potential IPO

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California’s Leafy Greens Producers Want Strong Food-Safety Laws

The job of implementing new food-safety legislation under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) isn’t getting any easier for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Pressure is mounting from some small farmers, foreign producers and consumer activist groups, who each have their own take on how the law should – or should not be – finalized.

Meanwhile, the issue of funding the cost of this sweeping legislation has still not been settled. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the challenge of making FSMA a reality is growing more and more complex.

Over the past several years, staff members from FDA have visited California to see and learn more about the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) and how this program is protecting public health for at least one segment of the U.S. produce industry.

The LGMA’s message to FDA is clear – we want strong food-safety laws. In fact, through the LGMA, a system of government oversight to ensure the safety of the majority of the nation’s leafy greens has been in place for more than six years. The program created by the California leafy greens industry in 2007 is based on science, includes mandatory government audits to verify that rigorous food-safety practices are being followed on leafy greens farms, and that there are real consequences for those who do not comply.

While others in the produce industry may be reluctant to embrace proposed food-safety rules, leafy greens farmers fully understand that they grow a product that is consumed in large quantities by people at home and in restaurants and it is frequently eaten raw. Leafy greens absolutely must be safe. The programs now in place in both California and Arizona not only meet the proposed requirements of FSMA, but they exceed the requirements of this new law.

The LGMA is proposing that FDA recognize our food-safety model and that, once FSMA is finalized, LGMA-certified leafy greens handlers be considered compliant with the new law.

These LGMA programs truly are a partnership between government and farming communities, with funding provided by industry and government serving to ensure compliance. By recognizing that the LGMA provides verification that handlers and growers are compliant with FSMA – and then some – FDA can be assured that more than 90 percent of the leafy greens produced in the U.S. are aligned with federal food-safety laws. With leafy greens taken care of, FDA can focus its attention on the other complexities of enacting this new law.

Food Safety News

FDA steps up scrutiny of Mexican leafy greens after Taylor facility linked to outbreak

WASHINGTON — After the Food & Drug Administration identified Taylor Farms de Mexico, a processor of foodservice salads, as the common supplier of salads linked to an outbreak of cyclosporiasis, the agency said it plans to increase its surveillance of imported green leafy products from Mexico.

As of Aug. 1, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported 400 cases of Cyclospora infection from the following health departments: Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New York City, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin.

On Aug. 3, FDA confirmed results reported by Iowa and Nebraska officials that the disease outbreak appears linked to a salad mix, and that the common product supplied to Darden Restaurants in those states was salad supplied by Taylor Farms de Mexico.

“Taylor Farms de Mexico, S. de R.L. de C.V. has been cooperating with all FDA requests during the investigation,” FDA said. “The FDA and the firm will be conducting an environmental assessment of the firm’s processing facility in Mexico to try to learn the probable cause of the outbreak and identify preventive controls to put in place to try and prevent a recurrence.”

The FDA found no notable issues with the Mexican facility during its most recent inspection in 2011, and the agency has not implicated consumer salad packages sold in grocery stores in the latest probe.

Iowa and Nebraska health officials said the tainted salad mix is no longer in the food supply in those states, as the last illness onset data was on July 1 in Iowa and July 2 in Nebraska and the typical shelf life for a salad mix is up to 14 days.

However, the agency does plan to increase surveillance of Mexican-originated leafy greens as a result of the recent discovery, FDA announced Aug. 3.

Taylor Farms issued an Aug. 3 statement to state the company is cooperating fully with FDA’s investigation, and that it is enhancing its testing program to assure further food safety at its state-of-the-art facility.

“We care deeply about the health and welfare of our customers and are absolutely committed to ensuring every salad we produce is great tasting, healthy, wholesome and, most importantly, safe,” the company said. “That is why Taylor Farms de Mexico assesses and tests all water sources, raw product fields; every lot, every day for any risk to our valued customers’ products.”

The company said it invited the FDA to visit the Mexico facility to conduct an environmental assessment and review its food-safety systems. During June, the Mexico facility produced and distributed about 48 million servings of salads to thousands of restaurants in the Midwest and eastern United States.

In the meantime, the FDA said it has a 21-person team housed at its suburban Maryland headquarters working to solve the outbreak, along with FDA specialists in the agency’s 10 field offices.

The FDA has asked its field offices to review and send information forward from consumer complaints that could be Cyclospora related. It will evaluate these consumer complaints to see if they supplement the epidemiology provided by the CDC and the states.

This information will be evaluated to determine if there might be opportunities to collect product samples, the FDA said.

The Produce News | Today’s Headlines

Greens Grower and Whole Foods Team Up for HACCP Certification

“It’s been a road.”

That’s how Jeff Miller, owner of Willie Green’s Organic Farm, a diversified 85-acre farm in western Washington, described the three-year process it took to get a “certified thumbs-up” for the strict food safety practices he has put into place for his salad greens and baby leaf spinach.

In doing that, Miller is one of the first — if not the first — organic greens growers in the state to have earned the distinction of being able to sell his fresh greens as HACCP-certified.

USDA describes HACCP, which stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points, as a production-control system — mandatory for meat, poultry and fish, among other foods, but voluntary for produce.  As such, it is used to pinpoint the steps in food production where contamination can occur, and from there to craft a strict management, monitoring and verification system — every step of the way.

For Miller, achieving HACCP certification for his washed, ready-to-eat salad mixes and baby spinach greens is good news not only for his farm but also for the many people who want to buy locally grown greens. That’s because he can now sell them to all of the Whole Foods stores in the Pacific Northwest, thus significantly expanding his customer base.

“Our first truck of clam shell Salad Mix and Spinach went out this morning!” says a June 14 Facebook post accompanied by a picture of the jubilant farmer displaying a box of clam shell containers of his farm’s greens. “Look for it at Whole Foods! We are so excited!”

The overall goal of HACCP is to prevent foodborne pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and noroviruses that can get people sick, or even kill them, from contaminating the food. This includes not only the processing the product but also the storing, packing and transportation of the product.

However, for greens that will be eaten raw, such as in salads or on sandwiches, there is no “kill step” that can totally eliminate any pathogens that might be on them. In contrast, meat can be cooked and milk can be pasteurized to zap any pathogens that might be present.

Since HACCP requires a great deal of due diligence to prevent produce from being contaminated in the first place, it is considered to be an important step forward for food safety when processing produce.

An important foundation of HACCP certification is a program known as GAPs (Good Agricultural Practices), which requires strict adherence to food safety practices on the farm — from preparing the soil to planting to harvesting the crop. Miller acquired GAPs certification this spring.

Like many smaller-scale farmers, Miller describes fresh-cut salad greens as an important part of his farm’s bottom line, primarily because they’re one of the first crops harvested, and also one of the last, thus giving the farmer the chance to sell them throughout the season. Those with greenhouses can often sell them year round.

“Our business is based around them,” Miller said. Besides greens, he also grows about 50 varieties of fruits and vegetables.

From Whole Foods’ perspective

For Whole Foods, Miller’s achievement in earning HACCP certification for his greens is especially good news because it lines up with the retailer’s goal of providing as much fresh, locally grown food as possible.

“It’s a great fit for Whole Foods,” Susan Livingston, the chain’s Pacific Northwest marketing director told Food Safety News. “Our customers have been telling us for decades that they want to buy locally grown foods.”

But sourcing locally grown foods often means that retailers and wholesalers need to set their sights on smaller-scale farms. And there comes the rub. Many of these farms can’t afford all the expenses that come with HACCP certification.

Whole Foods has, for the past decade or so, required HACCP certification.

“Our food safety standards are some of the most stringent in the industry, especially since so much of our food is sourced locally,” said Livingston.

At the same time, Whole Foods recognizes that for many smaller-scale farms such as Willie Green’s, HACCP certification takes more than a desire to do it. It also takes a lot of time to make sure the proper food safety practices are being followed day after day — not to mention a lot of money.

For that reason, Whole Foods granted Willie Green’s two loans through its Local Producer Loan Program. With the first loan, Miller put in 5 greenhouses so he could extend his growing season. He used the second loan to construct a processing plant, which he describes as “a quarter-of-a-million-dollar project.”

“Without the backing of Whole Foods, none of this would have happened,” he said.

Whole Foods’ regional forager Denise Breyley, who worked with Miller for the past 3 years on achieving HACCP certification, said that while smaller-scale farmers such as Miller have other outlets, among them farmers markets and farm stands, earning HACCP certification allows Willie Green’s to sell to larger buyers.

“Food safety of produce is really important,” Breyley said. “It’s something all growers should be focusing on. I’m not sure how aware the public is about food safety. Many people think about it when they think about meat, but it’s also important for produce.”

That’s especially true for fresh leafy greens. While they are praised by doctors and public health agencies alike for being nutritional powerhouses, a report done for the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention puts them at the very top of the list of the 10 riskiest FDA-regulated foods.

One reason for that is that when a leafy green is cut, nutrients start oozing out of that cut. If there are any foodborne pathogens on the leaf, they’ll migrate toward those nutrients and hang on tight. And though washing the greens might dislodge some of the pathogens, it won’t dislodge all of them because those cuts can open up the a path for microbial invasions of the plant’s tissues. For the same reason, chemical sanitizers do only a marginal job of killing the pathogens.

If, however, there are no pathogens on the leaves, none of this will happen, which is why following food safety standards, as required under Good Agricultural Practices and HACCP, is so important.

The possible risks associated with fresh leafy greens was illustrated in a tragic way in 2006 when an E. coli outbreak linked to raw spinach grown in California caused 3 deaths and 199 illnesses, including 102 hospitalizations.

That “wake-up call” — both to the public and to the industry — led to the formation in 2007 of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, which requires the approximately 350 greens growers in California who sell to the major greens shippers in California to follow validated food safety practices. (These shippers —more than 100 of them — are members of the marketing agreement and account for about 99 percent of the volume of California leafy greens.)

Shortly after the formation of the California LGMA, handlers and growers in Arizona formed the Arizona LGMA to regulate leafy greens grown in that state.

The emphasis is on farming practices, said Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California LGMA, because FDA was already requiring HACCP-like practices to be followed in processing plants.

What are processed fresh leafy greens?

According to FDA, fresh leafy greens are those whose leaves have been cut, shredded, sliced, chopped or torn. As such, “leafy greens” can include iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, butter lettuce, baby leaf lettuce (i.e., immature lettuce or leafy greens), escarole, endive, spring mix, spinach, cabbage, kale, arugula and chard.

The term “leafy greens” does not include herbs such as cilantro or parsley.

An explanation of the difference between greens that are considered a “raw agricultural product” and those that are considered a “processed product” can be found in Food Safety News’ article Two Sides of the Coin for Food Safety of Cut Leafy Greens.

Costs of HAACP

When talking about some of the expenses associated with HACCP certification, Miller said he had to hire two people full-time to craft the farm’s Good Agricultural Practices and the HACCP plan, as well as to pass the audits. HACCP requires third-party audits that include monitoring and testing to make sure the proper food safety strategies are being followed.

“The goal of HACCP is to minimize risk, and you have to put measures into place to do that,” Miller said.

Documentation is key, he said, citing monthly testing of the water used in the plant as an example. And even something as simple as changing a light bulb needs to be documented and done according to standard operating procedures as outlined in the HACCP plan.

Food safety doesn’t stop at the plant, either. To keep the greens cool once they leave premises, Miller has to hire a trucking firm to deliver them to Whole Foods.

When asked where the critical “danger points” are in his operation, he quickly said that it’s the entire chain — from planting to harvesting to processing to transportation.

“Anything that’s broken in that chain can cause problems,” he said.

As challenging and expensive as all of this may be, HACCP does come with some flexibility, said Miller, explaining that there are no hard, fast rules for HACCP certification.

“You write your own plan to minimize risks,” he said. “You explain what you’re doing.”

Primus Labs uses a point system when conducting the audits, and while some discrepancies lead to a loss of points, some lead to automatic failures.

Body condoms

The workers are an important part of HACCP. Miller said his employees go through training and, when in the plant, wear sterilized boots, gloves, aprons and other clothing to make sure they can’t inadvertently contaminate the greens.

“It’s like a ‘body condom,’” Miller said, describing the employees’ uniforms.

In addition, boot-washing stations are set up inside and outside the plant — with sanitized mats placed in locations throughout the facility.

“There are all kinds of points that can introduce contamination,” Miller said. When all is said and done, Miller said, it comes down to creating a culture that embraces food safety. And that starts at the top and trickles down to the employees.

“As the owner, I can’t come into the plant without sanitized boots and gloves,” he said. “It has to be ingrained in the culture. It has to be second nature for all of us. It’s a different way of doing business. You have to set expectations and demand accountability. There’s too much at risk not to do that.”

And, yes, there can be resistance on the part of the employees, and even the owners.

“Fifteen years ago, I would have resisted,” he said. “But now, anyone resisting will be left behind.”

Is it worth it?

Miller said that obtaining HACCP certification for his greens does pencil out, although no one knows what the future might bring.

According to a HACCP feasibility report focusing on leafy greens, HACCP certification for salad greens is expensive and challenging to do. But Kristen Wilmer, a CISA staff member, said people who want to sell to wholesalers are undoubtedly moving in that direction.

What’s coming down the road

Miller predicts that it won’t be long before all retail buyers will require farmers and processors to show that they’re adhering to strict food safety standards.

Not only that, he said, but once the provisions of the Food Safety Modernization Act go into force, the regulators will require farmers and processors to go a step beyond Good Agricultural Practices and HACCP.

“And that will probably put a lot of small farmers out of business,” he said. “It’s going to change the entire landscape of food production.”

But beyond demands made upon farmers by retailers and regulators, there’s also this reality: “I don’t think any farmer wants to get people sick,” Miller said.

Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, agrees with Miller that once the Food Safety Modernization Act goes into place, there will be demands on almost everyone.

He also pointed out that “no matter what size a farm is, it’s important to have food safety practices in place.”

“I applaud those who are already doing it,” he said, referring to Miller and other smaller-scale farmers who are taking the necessary steps.

For Miller, it’s a matter of being realistic about the future of his farm. “I wanted to be ahead of the curve,” he said. “I saw the writing on the wall.”

Food Safety News

Leafy Greens Council appoints new executive director following death of Ray Clark

The Leafy Greens Council appointed Beth Brown to the role of executive director July 1 following the death of former executive director Ray Clark on June 6.

“It is with great sadness that I must announce the loss of Ray Clark, executive director of the Leafy Greens Council,” Jeff Greene, president of the council, wrote in a letter to members. “As one of the founding members of the council, Ray had true enthusiasm for the leafy green commodities, the industry and for educating our nation on the benefit of leafy greens. BethaBeth BrownThis was a lifelong passion for him. Ray’s dedication and efforts were a crucial part of the continued success [of the Leafy Greens Council], and we all will truly miss him.”

Clark, along with Robert Strube Sr. of Strube Celery & Vegetable Co. in Chicago, established the council in 1974. The council was based in St. Paul, MN, during Clark’s tenure, but it is now headquartered in Waterport, NY, where Brown lives with her husband.

Originally focused on promoting marketing strategies for fresh spinach, the council has since expanded over the years to encompass all leafy greens products.

“Ray was dedicated to promoting these products, along with educating consumers on the major nutritional benefits they provide,” Brown told the Produce News July 17. “Being Ray’s successor, I am focused on continuing his legacy and his hopes for the Leafy Greens Council. As executive director, I look forward to being an advocate for the leafy greens commodities and the membership’s interests, promote and expand membership in the council, and continue the council’s marketing and educational opportunities in the produce industry.”

Having grown up on a wholesale fresh market vegetable farm in the Eden Valley area of New York, the produce industry has always played a significant role in Brown’s life. She attended SUNY-Oswego, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Since then, she has been working in the human resources field for the last six years.

Brown currently resides in Waterport, NY, on her husband’s family fruit farm where they grow apples and a variety of berries, as well as operate a farm market.

“The agricultural industry as a whole has always been and continues to be important to me,” she said. “Therefore, being executive director of the Leafy Greens Council provides me the opportunity to promote a very important sector of the produce industry.”

Clark, who was 89 years old, is survived by his wife, Elly Clark, three children, and several grandchildren. A memorial service was scheduled for July 24 in St. Paul, MN.

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