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As the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement begins its third year of operation, it is making a major push to help the produce-buying trade better understand its programs.

More important, the agreement is working to demonstrate that mandatory government inspections required by all members are the only truly independent farm audit a produce buyer needs.

The agreement is a mechanism for verifying that farmers follow established food-safety practices through regular audits conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculturetrained inspectors. Its members handle approximately 99 percent of the volume of leafy green products grown in California.

"The LGMA has been in existence since 2007, and most people in the produce industry are aware of it. However, there is still some misinformation about the specifics of our program," Scott Horsfall, chief executive officer of the agreement, said in a press release. "This year, we are taking some very direct actions to make sure produce buyers fully understand the value of LGMA."

The first step in this process has been to hire a technical expert who will be calling on retail and foodservice companies to personally deliver information about the agreement.

"The LGMA is pleased to report we have contracted with produce industry veteran Dennis Kihlstadius to serve as our representative in educating the trade about LGMA programs and inspection activities," Mr. Horsfall added in the press release, explaining that Mr. Kihlstadius is currently conducting a series of one-on-one meetings throughout the country with produce-buying companies. "The meetings are designed not just to educate buyers about LGMA but to establish an open dialogue to ensure the California leafy greens industry is adequately addressing food-safety requirements for buyers."

Mr. Kihlstadius, who has represented numerous commodity groups over the years, has owned Produce Technical Service since 1988. His specialty is in providing post-harvest handling consultation and he has worked with retailers, wholesalers and foodservice operations throughout the world. He has introduced and implemented ripening programs for avocados, tomatoes and pears, and he often lectures on this topic for the University of California- Davis and the Produce Marketing Association's Produce Academy.

"Dennis has a tremendous amount of experience in communicating complicated, technical aspects of produce industry operations," Mr. Horsfall added in the press release. "We believe this expertise will be useful in communicating with the produce-buying community about the LGMA metrics, how they are implemented and verified, and how they can become a crucial element in a food-safety program."

Mr. Horsfall noted that the agreement has produced a series of informational materials, including a technical binder, which contains details on the LGMA metrics and audit program. Mr. Kihlstadius will be delivering this information during meetings with retail and foodservice businesses.

Along with the addition of Mr. Kihlstadius, the organization recently held a seminar to arm the leafy greens industry's sales and marketing personnel with information on how to better communicate information about the agreement to their own customers. The event, attended by over 60 individuals from 25 companies, was held in April in Monterey, CA, and was titled, Tools for Talking about Food Safety.

The seminar was led by Carmine Gallo, a well-known communications coach for companies such as Intel, Chase, Nokia and Home Depot. Mr. Gallo presented to the group a set of tools to help members talk about the value of the agreement's programs and why buyers should support and accept them.

Produce buyers can find information about the agreement on-line at www.caleafygreens.ca.gov, where they also can sign up for an e-mail notification system to receive information regarding membership status, decertification actions, changes to the food-safety practices and other pertinent updates.