ORLANDO, Fla. — The produce industry received praise from regulators for supporting food safety research during the Center for Produce Safety’s second annual research symposium.
During the June 28 event, researchers and leading industry and academic officials discussed 16 of the center’s 43 fresh produce research projects. Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection at the Food and Drug Administration, applauded industry and government involvement to assure safe food.
“Watching the involvement of the center over the last several years has been absolutely gratifying, to see where we’ve gotten to now,” Farrar said. “The process works. This is in essence mining for gold. We’re digging up lots of nuggets and finding some veins once in a while.”
Discussing challenges and opportunities of assess risks in the produce industry, Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., said there is never enough sampling or testing to eliminate one specific event.
“It creates a generalization that gives a whole industry or region a problem,” he said. “As a producer, I’d caution the scientific community to look at what you’re saying. When will we say enough is enough? It’s clear we cannot do enough testing to eliminate one event. If we have to keep sampling to find the one sick animal or one problem we have to deal with, the fact that you find one early doesn’t necessarily imply you have a catastrophe.”
Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, Yakima, Wash., said the tree fruit industry has expanded research of food safety.
“These issues aren’t going away and we have to give responses,” Schlect said. “One reason we think the Center for Produce Safety is good, hopefully it can get rational responses. Economics kicks in here. We can’t be just testing without scientific reasons to test.”
The Wegman Family Charitable Foundation of Wegmans Food Markets Inc., Rochester, N.Y., donated $250,000 — the first such donation from a retailer — and encouraged others to support the center’s research.
“Getting at this in a fast track way just seemed like a brilliant idea,” said Mary Ellen Burris, Wegmans’ senior vice president of consumer affairs. “The speed of the research is the point. Let’s get accountable research and do something about it to make the best practices visible. Take the center’s ideas and go back to your company or organization and say we need to support this ongoing work.”
Conference organizers say 249 people registered for the event.
Research projects presented at the symposium include stabilizing chlorine in washing solutions, survival of E. coli on soil and irrigation water in leafy green fields, developing salmonella-resistant tomatoes as well as preventing salmonella in almonds and pistachios.
The Packer will report on specific research projects in coming weeks.