A: The hearing is about an outbreak that took place before the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement was in place. In our status report, we talked about the number of audits, and the number of citations we had made of our members based on those audits; there were 450 or so.
Senator Florez requested all the information related to all those citations. It was explained to him that specific audits were confidential. But once a company is charged with a flagrant violation, then we provide that information.
We have four levels of violations for citations, most involve corrective action. We don’t release the records unless they’re flagrant violations. Otherwise they are part of ongoing investigations.
Q: Florez says that not fully complying with the Committee’s request reflected a “lack of transparency”. How can LGMA alleviate that perception? Would there be any benefit or detriment to improving food safety by releasing all records?
A: We believe the program’s purpose and the interest of the public are best served by focusing on those companies we have to decertify.
The audits are intended to insure companies are in compliance with good agricultural practices and to allow them to take corrective actions. The companies have done a great job of working with us to do just that.
Q: What kinds of violations are you talking about and how complicated are the corrective actions?
A: The vast majority of citations we cite are very, very minor… a lot are paper work issues, involving missing paper work such as a misplaced water record, usually things the company can correct, and they do. These aren’t violations that have an impact on food safety. Otherwise they’d be considered flagrant violations.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in your testimony?
A: I’ve never had to do one of these hearings before, so I’m not sure what to expect. We welcome the opportunity to talk about the program. I’ve always said I believe the Senator and our industry have mutual interests and we are all coming from the same place, to put in the best program to minimize the chance of illness, but sometimes we might have different methods on getting there.
We’ll answer the questions and do the best we can. The industry has made really great strides in the last year, and Senator Florez acknowledged the progress in a speech he gave last week.
Q: I understand you’ll be attending the hearing tomorrow [March 12] with Scott Horsfall. Could you share your perspective?
A: At the hearing, they will do a report on the investigation of Taco John’s, but we weren’t involved in that.
We all want the same thing; to produce the safest produce possible. We have a good story to tell. The industry has responded in a very proactive and positive way.
It doesn’t mean we can’t improve the program as we go along. This is brand new. It is a living document. The standards may change as science moves forward. This was the fastest way to something in place.
We’ll look at the senator’s input like everyone’s input. Our reputations, our livelihoods and the safety of consumers are all at stake. We all have a desire to make our food as safe as possible. We’ll answer questions in the best faith effort we can.
We’ve issued a status report. We wanted it to realistically portray what the program has done in the past six-month period. And three companies were cited for flagrant violations and decertified.
Knowing this company or that company had a minor infraction doesn’t help food safety. In any auditing program, documentation is critical. The auditor is looking to validate practices. It’s document-intense. There is a learning curve but by and large, people have gotten over that curve. The auditor will note if something isn’t right. Only those cases that potentially put safety at risk should be decertified. It has to be constructive.
The whole premise of the hearing is not merely ridiculous but dangerous. How could an event that occurred before the Leafy Greens Board was formulated even be relevant?
Besides if we want people to share information freely — and we certainly do — they have to feel that it will be kept confidential unless something egregious happens.
We wish Scott and Joe good luck and extend our condolences on having to waste their valuable time with people seeking headlines rather than to improve food safety.