(March 19) As early as March 23, California’s leafy greens industry could have a good agricultural practices document to guide them as grower-shippers prepare for a food safety certification process designed to restore consumer confidence.

The final draft of the 50-page document was presented to the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement’s advisory board in mid-March, before the executive committee reviews it, said Tim Chelling, vice president of communications for Irvine-based Western Growers. He said the executive committee might present it to the board for a vote at a March 23 meeting.

Chelling said the technical committee most likely would not suggest changes to the good agricultural practices outlined by industry researchers and federal and state health regulators. The document outlines scientific practices, inspections, assessments, the use of a certification seal and enforcement procedures for the voluntary marketing agreement. Its approval is also the first step to establish a mandatory, assessment-driven food safety marketing order for California leafy greens.

“They (technical committee members) trust that this has been put together in a very academic, scientific fashion and it’s credible, so they’re not going to tear it apart,” Chelling said.

IN ENGLISH, PLEASE

Chelling said, though, that there would be one significant change to the document to make it more consumer friendly—its name.

“We’re going to call it the Enhanced Food Safety Standards or something like that,” he said. “We’re going to translate it into ‘English’ so the people at home will know what we’re talking about.”

The deadline for hander signups for the agreement is April 1, when the group’s fiscal year starts. Chelling said one of the first orders of business is to set up assessment guidelines.

“There was an initial assessment early on to raise $100,000 to pay for administrative costs, open a bank account, meeting room rent, office supplies and travel reimbursement,” he said.

BUDGET

Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the marketing agreement originally set the assessment at 5 cents per carton.

Joe Pezzini, vice president of operations for Ocean Mist Farms, Castroville, and chairman of the advisory board, said the assessment has not yet been defined and that the board is still working on a budget. He said the board might consider something similar to California Lettuce Research Board assessments that are based on a 24-count-per-box equivalent; raw product destined for processors is assessed on a per-pound basis.

“I think that will be defined by next week’s meeting because we’re going to need to know that before April 1,” he said March 16.

“When the metrics are accepted and a method of verification is decided on by the board there will be a point in time where verification methods will begin,” Lyle said. “We don’t know exactly when that will occur. The board is working quickly, but also with an eye toward when the program is fully operational it’s the right way.”