California Produce Industry Nears New Guidelines

The Food and Drug Administration says that lettuce grown in California's Central Valley may have caused an E. coli outbreak at Midwestern Taco John's restaurants late last year. It was the third outbreak in as many months, and it followed a spinach scare in September that sickened 200 people and killed three.

The new scrutiny has put a lot of pressure on California growers to come up with tough, verifiable food-safety standards for the state's entire leafy green industry.

In a few months, fresh, California-grown leafy greens will have a seal of approval on the package that the industry hopes will alleviate concerns. The seal will mean that the product has been grown according to a set of "good agricultural practices," or GAPs.

The industry itself is writing the guidelines after it was pushed to do so by government and grocers. In the past, guidelines like these were voluntary and there were no official or unofficial inspections. But once the new certification program is in place, inspections will be mandatory.

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