By Hilary Thesmar, PhD, RD, CFS, Chief Food and Product Safety Officer and Senior Vice President Food Safety, Food Marketing Institute
Romaine lettuce might bring several images to mind. It might remind you of a delicious Caesar Salad, it might remind you of a beautiful display of food on the family table, or it might remind you of having to pull the product twice from your supply chain and your stores without warning in April and again in November of 2018. The question we heard repeatedly was, “How can I protect myself from having to go through that again?” Some things are out of our control, but as a big believer to control what we can, the food and product safety team along with the FMI Food Protection Committee have put together a plan and Recommended Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens to help you work with your suppliers and know what to ask for when you are purchasing leafy greens.
Earlier this year, the FMI Board of Directors provided us with direction to help prevent contamination of leafy greens; to increase communication across the entire supply chain; to protect consumers and the safety of products; and to effectively respond to food safety incidents, should they occur again. The FMI Food Protection Committee went through a process of identifying the most important issues, determining retail/wholesale industry actions that could have the desired impact on each issue and the likelihood of success of those actions. The plan included evaluating food safety standards and making recommendations to the retail and wholesale industry.
We’ve been working with the FMI Food Protection Committee enacting this plan. It’s involved trips to leafy green production areas in Arizona and California, discussions with local and federal government officials, food safety professionals and produce experts, and evaluating the process and breaking down the supply chain step-by-step. The result of our investigation is a new tool for food retailers and wholesalers, Recommended Food Safety Practices for Leafy Greens. This eight-page document aims to:
- Prevent contamination of leafy greens.
- Increase communication across the entire supply chain.
- Protect consumers and the safety of products.
- Effectively respond to food safety incidents, should they occur again.
Within the document we outline four key recommendations for food retailers and wholesalers designed to help our members ensure the safety of the products they sell. When it comes to sourcing leafy greens, we outline best practices and recommend robust food safety specifications for food retailer communication with suppliers.
The health and safety of our customers are the primary goal of all retailers and wholesalers. We encourage food retailers and wholesalers of all sizes to consider implementing these recommendations to both raise and consolidate standards for prevention, but also to reduce risk. We hope you will closely evaluate these recommendations and include them in your supplier approval programs.