California leafy green handlers and growers know what it’s like to work under strict food safety rules with government oversight.

Since 2007, virtually all of the state’s leafy green producers have followed new guidance outlining the best scientific-based methods for reducing foodborne illnesses in their product and many say a national program aimed at the same outcome is much needed and overdue.

“It will create a more level playing field,” said Tom Nunes Jr., president of The Nunes Co., Salinas, Calif.

The national agreement, as proposed, would be similar to the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement enacted after the 2006 E. coli outbreak linked to bagged spinach. Arizona handlers are covered under a similar agreement.

The national proposal is backed by a coalition of national produce trade groups and likely won’t start until next year.

Nunes said what makes a national program so important is providing standard rules that cover the flux in leafy production outside California during summer months.

While California and Arizona represent close to 90% of the nation’s leafy green production, Nunes said when homegrown production starts in the summer it captures a lot of demand from California in the Midwest and along the East Coast.

The proposed national agreement would cover a range of leafy green commodities: arugula, cabbage, chard, cilantro, endive, escarole, kale, lettuce, parsley, radicchio, spinach and spring mix.

Phil Adrian, vice president of Coastline Produce, Salinas, said the real advantage of a national program with government oversight is proof to consumers the produce industry is growing safe food.

“This will help consumers realize Americans have a very safe food supply and they can trust it,” Adrian said.

The national proposal, submitted in June, is pending before the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will be soliciting comments from the industry later this year to determine whether there is enough interest and support to enact a voluntary national agreement.

Kevin Jordan, director of sales and marketing for Santa Maria, Calif.-based Adam Bros. Produce Inc., said he expects the biggest benefit California growers and shippers will get from a national program is lower costs and streamlining how many food safety regimens they follow.

“Let’s just get one standard for all produce in general,” Jordan said. “That’s the way to go.”

Backers of the national agreement include:

  • the United Fresh Produce Association,

  • Produce Marketing Association,

  • Georgia Fresh Vegetable Association,

  • Texas Vegetable Association, Leafy Greens Council,

  • California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement,

  • Grower-Shipper Association of Central California,

  • the Western Growers Association, and

  • Farm Bureau affiliates in Arizona, California and Georgia.