January 25, 2023

WG Now Offers Pre-Harvest Testing Technical Support

Pre-harvest testing is a hot topic and technical support is now offered by Western Growers. On Nov. 2, 2022, Western Growers, in collaboration with the California Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, (CA LGMA) held an in-person workshop on the subject at the Monterey County Farm Bureau in Salinas, Calif.

The event was the first in a series of workshops we plan to offer on this topic and was free for attendees. It was presented by various subject matter experts, including Felice Arboisiere, Director FSQA Supply Chain North America, Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc.; Joelle Mosso, Associate Chief Scientific Officer, Eurofins; April Englishbey, Global Produce Manager Molecular Diagnostics, Hygiena; Joan Rosen, President, JC Rosen Resources; Greg Komar, Technical Director, CA LGMA, and myself.

This was a pilot workshop aimed at providing a basic background on pre-harvest product sampling and testing and addressing some key challenges and questions with pre-harvest testing in the produce industry. The relatively recent focus on pre-harvest product testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in response to a series of romaine lettuce outbreaks was one impetus behind this workshop. The LGMA guidelines also currently require pre-harvest product testing under specific situations. Both WG and LGMA members have reached out with questions regarding implementing pre-harvest testing programs and how to write internal SOPs that comply with regulatory and buyer requirements. This workshop was the first step in providing relevant information to our members and allowing an opportunity for produce operations to directly engage with local experts on this topic. The target audience for this workshop included food safety professionals overseeing and implementing pre-harvest testing programs (supervisors/managers/directors).

A post-event survey was conducted and 34 percent of the attendees responded, offering valuable feedback. Based on this, we’re adjusting the workshop structure, content and delivery and will be offering the next one in Yuma, Ariz. in late January/early February 2023. This time, the workshop will include a hands-on demo of sampling techniques on a farm by a trained sampler.

We’re also incorporating some content to address specific questions that were raised during the workshop in Salinas, such as:

• Who oversees improving testing methods or conducting research toward improved methodology?

• How do labs decide which methods they offer to their clients?

• How does industry decide which methods to use?

• Industry is being pushed to test as close to harvest as possible. From the lab perspective, what is the best time to test?

• What does a method validation entail? How rigorous is it and how well does it reflect real-life conditions?

• Should I react to a molecular presumptive positive or go through culture confirmation before deciding whether to harvest a lot or not?

• Is it beneficial to give your lab a heads up when conducting extensive testing during a root cause analysis investigation?

The speakers did a wonderful job of answering these questions and others and we hope to have a similarly engaging discussion in our next workshop.

We also coined a new term for those in the industry during this workshop: super scientist. Come and meet these super scientists at our next pre-harvest product testing workshop in Yuma. It’s a great opportunity to meet and learn from your peers on a subject that’s top of mind.

A special note of gratitude to all the speakers and behind-the-scenes staff who made this workshop a success and to the Monterey County Farm Bureau for their hospitality. Eurofins sponsored this event and provided breakfast and snacks. Ocean Mist Farms contributed high-quality spinach, brussels sprouts and broccoli for in-class demos.

For additional assistance or questions, please contact Afreen Malik, Science Programs Director, at [email protected]

WGA cares about food safety in our industry and food safety at home. If you have any concerns about food safety compliance or your organization’s food safety plan, please contact Sonia Salas at [email protected].