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Leafy Greens Growers Updating Protocols For Food Safety

There have been 172 people in 32 states sickened by a strain of E. coli connected to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, passed in January.

In 2017, both the California and Arizona Leafy Greens Marketing Agreements updated required food safety practices to be in alignment wtih federal food safety laws. According to the announcement last year, it means 90 percent of the leafy greens produced in the U.S. and certified through the LGMA’s system of mandatory government audits will be in full compliance with new laws under FSMA.

Leafy greens growers from California and Arizona met in Yuma last year to update food safety protocols established by the Food Safety Modernization Act and focused on something called the "water rule."

Channah Rock is a water quality specialist at the University of Arizona. She said right now they are doing a cost-benefit analysis of water testing.

"So how much water are we putting through these water treatment systems? And what is that ultimate benefit that that grower is going to see by treating these massive amounts of water that they are using for produce production in the state," Rock said.

Unfortunately, there are agricultural treatment methods out on the marketplace that work well in controlled settings but in the field may not work well, Rock said. So meetings are being held with growers on site to test methods and hopefully prevent additional outbreaks.

"So, we are trying to again work with growers so that they can be vigilant. And they are trained in ways to identify potential contamination issues and then respond appropriately to prevent that contamination getting on that crop and then making it into the marketplace," Rock said.

All U.S. producers and processors of leafy greens will need to comply with the FSMA rules by the end of the year. The changes come a decade after the Leafy Greens Management Association was created, started after an outbreak of E. coli traced to California spinach sickened 199 people and killed three.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to clarify when the grower's meeting in Yuma was held.

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Heather van Blokland moved to Phoenix in March 2016 to join KJZZ as a host/producer, after working as an on-air host/producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, covering middays, weekends and most everything in between. van Blokland previously worked as a Morning Edition host and reporter at Florida NPR affiliate WUFT-FM, covering business and agriculture beats. She was also the local producer and editor for StoryCorps’ story booth.Like many in public media, van Blokland brings a diverse background to her daily duties. Her first career was in the private sector as a financial analyst manager in commercial and investment banking. She also used to teach canoeing and kayaking on the local rivers in North Central Florida. Her education includes a master’s in mass communication from the University of Florida, a bachelor’s in finance, marketing and multinational business from Florida State University, and a diploma in acting for film and television from Vancouver Film School in Vancouver, British Columbia. She wrote and produced a film, later submitted to the Vancouver International Film Festival.In her free time, van Blokland enjoys exploring the outdoors, everything from a hike on South Mountain to Vancouver's Butchart Gardens to a ride through Swaziland’s Mkhaya Game Reserve. Her travels have included South Africa, Swaziland, western Canada, Australia, the British Isles, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay and summers on the outskirts of London. She is also a certified open-water diver, and still looking to apply that skill in Phoenix.Half Southern and half English, van Blokland enjoys using phrases that surprise people. She does not enjoy steak and kidney pie or Monty Python. You can send your ardent disagreements with this statement to her directly at [email protected].