Growers report food safety costs

A new study of food safety costs among California’s leafy greens growers is now available from the UC Small Farm Program.

The survey is the first to ask California’s leafy greens growers, specifically, about their food safety costs after the implementation of the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA).

The LGMA was created in 2007 as a response to the 2006 E. coli 0157:H7 spinach outbreak. The marketing agreement is a voluntary program for handlers of lettuce, spinach, and other leafy greens sold in California. Farmers who want to sell their leafy greens to LGMA handlers must also comply with LGMA food safety provisions. An estimated 99 percent of leafy greens sold in California are covered under the LGMA requirements.

Many small-scale leafy greens growers who only sell directly to consumers, chefs and independent grocers are not subject to the LGMA.

In the survey, growers reported their seasonal food safety costs more than doubled after the implementation of the LGMA, increasing 127 percent from an average of $24.04 per acre to $54.63 per acre. Because it appears that growers may have ignored some costs when responding to the survey--e.g., some labor costs and owner's time--the combined real costs of seasonal and one-time food safety improvements could exceed $100 per acre.

The survey also found that costs per acre were consistently lowest for the largest-sized growers, with revenues over $10 million, who were also more likely to hire food safety specialists to manage their farms' compliance.

Information from the survey will be presented at hearings in consideration of a national LGMA, to be held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture beginning Tuesday, Sept. 22.

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