The Center for Produce Safety has opened its latest annual push for research proposals with an eye on the distribution chain and not just farms. In particular, they're looking at cantaloupes, tree fruit, pistachios and walnuts.

The center, at the University of California-Davis, plans to fund $3 million in food safety research for 2012. Topics can be general or commodity-specific.

The request for proposals is at the CPS website.  Proposals are due March 30 and should be submitted here. In four years, CPS has awarded nearly $9 million and funded 58 one- and two-year research projects at 19 universities.

This year’s list of eight core priorities includes topics on pathogen survival in the postharvest distribution chain, postharvest handling and processing, and harvest and cooling practices.

“They are taking this down the supply chain,” said Tim York, CPS advisory board member and president of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative. “One of the things discussed at the cantaloupe food safety meeting a few weeks ago was about how temperature-sensitive listeria is and how critical temperature management is throughout the supply chain.

“I don’t know if this was a direct response to the cantaloupe meeting, but it’s a very appropriate evolution for CPS to be looking downstream at postharvest handling, cooling and processing practices — including what happens in transportation and at retail or wholesale. It’s a nice recognition of what some growers have said: ‘Why is it always about us?’ It acknowledges that we are all in this together. Most findings to date focused on the farm level.”

Bob Whitaker, chief science officer at the Produce Marketing Association and chair of the CPS technical committee, affirmed that broader scope.

“With this request for proposals, CPS is expanding upon some basic core research areas from the farm through processing and up the supply chain through distribution,” Whitaker said in a news release. “We have worked with stakeholders to identify key knowledge gaps in food safety and look forward to the research community’s response.”

Cantaloupe is high on the list of commodity-specific research objectives. Typically, the findings of such research hold implications for a broader range of commodities. In any case, cantaloupe is the 2012 focus, along with tree fruit, pistachios and walnuts.

“The cantaloupe industry looks forward to the research proposals CPS will receive in response to this request,” Paul Fleming of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Martori Farms said in the release. “The questions were developed through a collaborative process with members of the supply chain, government and academia. Research into science based microbial reduction, cantaloupe-specific guidance, and outreach are all key areas within the produce industry’s food safety priorities.”

“It has never been more important for tree fruit producers, handlers and shippers to understand food safety issues and invest in the research and extension activities necessary to implement safe, efficient practices,” Jim McFerson of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission said in the release.

“The Washington tree fruit industry wholeheartedly supports the outstanding work of CPS to provide the leadership for a nationally-coordinated research and extension effort. The need for science-based information to address regulatory demands and consumer expectations has never been greater.”

The center was established with funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the University of California, the Produce Marketing Association and Taylor Farms.