Learnings from the Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium
The Center for Produce Safety held its annual Research Symposium this past week in Atlanta, GA. I attended as did new LGMA Chairman Ron Ratto, our Technical Director Mike Villaneva and several members of the leafy greens community including food safety personnel from certified handler-members, other industry associations and quite a few of our retail and foodservice partners who purchase leafy greens for consumers.
The LGMA sponsors this event because it provides tremendous value to leafy greens producers. CPS does a great job presenting what could be very dry research reports in a way that’s meaningful and engaging. In addition to presentations by leading researchers and food safety experts, the sessions often include follow-up panels made up of industry members, regulators and retail/foodservice operators who discuss what the research findings mean to them or how they are dealing with various issues in their own operations.
The LGMA always learns a lot at this symposium, but we thought it would be interesting to hear from some of our handler-members and customers who attended the event to get their take on things. Below are some of their insights:
Food Safety Manager
Taylor Farms California
CPS Produce Research Symposium is a very important source of information for the produce industry that helps us make better decisions within our operations. Out of all topics reviewed, I found irrigation water quality topics very interesting. I found most informative the following topics on:
- GAP’s application, deeper water quality risk assessments.
- Better understanding of contamination risks on irrigation water.
- Reviewing of irrigation water sampling programs.
- Evaluation of Irrigation water disinfection methods.
This is all helpful to us in mitigating the risk of produce contamination by irrigation water.
Director of Field Food Safety
Foxy Produce, Inc.
Cutting edge science can make both small and large farmers and companies a bit apprehensive, but CPS fosters conversations with other people in the industry to help translate and break down ways to incorporate new research into our agricultural and packing practices. The result is that our industry becomes stronger and more advanced.
Raw Produce Food Safety Manager
A new format called ‘The Lightning Round’ was added this year, which featured brief, 5-minute synopses preview reports on new food safety scientific research projects in the early stages. These rapid fire reports on current topics ranging from evaluation of pathogen survival to potential new indicator organisms proved lively and intriguing to the audience and were an instant new format hit for the unique CPS brand of practical research!
But perhaps one of the most intriguing sessions at this year’s CPS meeting involved the ‘Hot Topics’ session, where topics ranged from Norovirus survival, persistence and transmission in water and product, to a very out of the box presentation by Dr. Martin Wiedmann of Cornell. Weidman presented his current work in progress on utilization of cutting edge pathogen genomics, as a novel means of developing custom designer sanitation wash schemes to target specific pathogens based on the physiological state of the bacteria. This very unique and high tech approach highlighted the incorporation of innovative thinking with the latest molecular genomic techniques of assessing the stress level of targeted pathogenic bacteria to more effectively treat and kill the pathogens. CPS keeps attracting such cutting edge and out of the box scientific thinking in the proposals from leading scientists, that also provide potentially quick and practical answers to the produce industry’s most perplexing food safety issues.
Manager Produce Safety
Wegmans Food Markets
The CPS Research Symposium has concluded for another year and I was extremely impressed with the gathering of industry members, scientists, regulatory and others to learn about the latest and greatest in research intended to be directly applicable to growing operations and the produce industry. I had the opportunity on Wednesday afternoon to be part of a panel where one scientist presented a proof of concept proposal using nitric oxide and nanoparticles to disperse biofilms, which would allow the sanitizer in wash water to gain access to the bacteria and kill them. This has a huge potential positive impact for the produce industry and is a great example of the kind of research being funded by the Center for Produce Safety.
Senior V.P. of Food Safety and Quality
The CPS Conference is one of my favorites because of its unique blend of passionate researchers, regulators and industry professionals focused entirely on produce safety. This was, in my opinion, the best yet. The new research on water quality and wash water was enlightening; the data on the true food safety risks from animals and possible mitigation strategies was surprising and could have practical application; and the information on biofilms was very interesting.
However, most exciting, in my opinion, were two presentations by Dr. Martin Wiedmann from Cornell University on ‘validation of geospatial algorithms’ and ‘genomic elucidation of pathogens’. The first (aka: farm risk mapping) led me to believe that we could be a few years away from the day when a farmer can use an iPhone app to answer a few questions and get a food safety risk map of certain areas of the farm that can be more risky and possible actions that could be taken to mitigate or eliminate those risks. Imagine what that could do for produce safety! The second (think of on/off switches on bacteria) is out of Sci-Fi and could be a game changer. We are close to being able to determine the on/off triggers for pathogens at a location. Imagine using this technology to develop a tailor made plan for your facility. What an impact!
While this research is not ready for prime time yet—since new research, by definition, is not commercialized — it shows the potential of what can be achieved. To me, the CPS conference is proof of the strides the produce industry is making in food safety. As the old advertisement says – “You’ve come a long way baby!”
What a way to sum things up, Jorge!
The CPS Symposium definitely showcased the incredible amount of food safety research that is being done. As always, it will take some time to fully comprehend the scope of findings, but CPS, the Produce Marketing Association and Western Growers Association should be commended for making the projects as accessible and practical as they do. The LGMA will continue to support the efforts of the CPS to advance the cause of food safety and to help us in our mission to protect public health.