January 14, 2022

Science Column: New Year, Same Mission | WG Science – What’s Happened and What’s Next?

By Scott Nichols, Science Program Specialist

For decades, Western Growers has progressed the science, technology and innovation of our industry to enhance agricultural practices, improve food safety and protect the environment. Today, that same mission flows through everything we do as an organization.

Between world-class food safety guidance and an abundance of educational and informative resources, our Science team strives to provide timely food safety services for our members and the agriculture industry at large. To sustain our environment and ensure it continues producing for generations to come, we are refining best management practices, developing sustainable solutions, and furthering climate change science and crop protection chemistries. Through data, we continue unlocking possibilities and are propelling the industry into a new realm of data-smart solutions and technologies.

Data Sharing

We’ve embarked on a revolutionary endeavor that brings a once far-fetched vision for the industry to life. Our leading data project is a Food Safety Data Sharing (FSDS) Platform that will help WG and the produce industry construct a data-driven narrative by advancing the sharing of food safety data. Users first will upload their food safety data into the platform. Then with the uploaded data, we assemble analytical visualizations and reporting tools so users can view, compare and assess their individual data in new ways. Additionally, the platform will generate anonymized and aggregated industry data sets, allowing individual operations to establish baselines and compare their data with the aggregate industry data to better evaluate and improve internal programs. If you’re interested in participating or would like to learn more about the project, visit our FSDS landing page on the WG website (wga.com) or reach out to us at [email protected].

Root Cause Analysis

Over this past year, Root Cause Analysis (RCA) was also a topic of high interest. To assist the fresh produce industry in RCA decision-making and implementation, WG helped develop and publish two RCA industry guidance documents. We then hosted a webinar series providing an overview of both guidance documents and addressed common questions. A robust RCA service and educational program is currently in development and will be available to all WG members soon. Both RCA guidance documents and the webinar series are available on our WG Resources page.

Food Safety Advisory Subcommittee

To better engage with our members and hear directly from the industry, we launched a new Food Safety Advisory Subcommittee consisting of a dozen companies from various business types and commodities purposed with providing technical expertise and advice on science issues and industry regulations impacting the safety of fresh produce. If you’re interested in learning more or joining the committee, please reach out to Sonia Salas at [email protected].

Product Sampling and Testing Guidance

As an industry leader in produce safety, WG remains committed to driving the evolution of guidance for preventive food safety programs in leafy greens as well as other commodities. This year, the Science team bolstered food safety efforts with the creation of Appendix C: Pre-harvest Product Sampling and Testing Protocol and managed another Leafy Greens Food Safety Guidelines Amendment Process.

Appendix C was developed using cutting-edge science and statistical models with independent input from multiple subject matter experts. The objective of Appendix C is to offer standardized, science-based guidance to operations who may be interested in developing and implementing pre-harvest product sampling and testing protocols. Our team also created a guide to help growers, shippers and handlers better manage Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sampling visits, which is on the WG website.

Leafy Green Food Safety Guidelines Amendment Process

To facilitate the Leafy Greens Food Safety Guidelines Amendment Process, solicit broad industry engagement and ensure transparency, WG, in partnership with the Arizona and California LGMAs, managed a systematic amendment process to the Soil Amendments/Non-Synthetic Crop Treatments and Adjacent Land Use/Production Locations sections of the LGMA-approved Leafy Green Food Safety Guidelines in May-July 2021. The process resulted in changes to the LGMA-approved food safety guidelines, which impact the way leafy greens are farmed in California and Arizona.

Moving Forward

In 2022, WG Science will continue building on the firm foundation laid in 2021 and maintain focus on our vision for WG, our members and the broader agriculture industry. Because together, we create solutions. Together, we lead the industry.