Massachusetts' Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture has received $33,825 to study the need for facilities where Commonwealth farmers can process salad greens to current industry standards of safety. The funds come from U.S. Department of Agriculture's federal-state Marketing Improvement Program and to the Department of Agricultural Resources.
Due to outbreaks of illnesses traced to pre-bagged salad greens across the country, more large retailers and buyers, such as Whole Foods Market and Sodexho, require greens to be HACCP-certified, a standard for the handling of processed foods. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. It's a certification standard that addresses biological hazards at all stages of food production, not just finished products. Presently there are no HACCEP facilities in the Commonwealth where farmers can process ready-to-eat salad greens to these standards.
"Without access to HACCP-certified processing facilities, Commonwealth farmers cannot sell fresh salad greens to grocery stores and commercial cafeterias where most pre-packaged salad is sold," says Annie Cheatham, CISA's executive director. "Our farmers are effectively locked out of a market that could be very profitable for them."
The 12-month feasibility study begins in September. It'll assess statewide market demand, as well as the costs of producing and processing HACCP-certified salad greens. The study will also examine the feasibility of developing salad greens processing facilities at existing community kitchens throughout the state.
Significant demand already exists for locally grown HACCP-certified salad greens in western Massachusetts, reports Cheatham. More than 50% of the region's hospitals and almost 75% of the colleges and University of Massachusetts are interested in or are already buying local food.
Many area food services managers have expressed interest in finding local pre-washed salad greens to anchor their salad bar menus, she adds. But they have had a difficulty finding farmers who can meet this need.
"Right now, the vast majority of pre-bagged salad greens are grown in California and Arizona. Meanwhile, our state's farmers, many of whom can grow greens 10 months out of the year, are struggling to stay in business," Cheatham says. "This research may give Commonwealth farmers new ways to compete with this national market."