(July 30) SALINAS, Calif. — In late June, besides wanting to get out her organization’s 2006 annual report, Mary Zischke wanted to convince the members of the California Lettuce Research Board to continue funding research programs, for the next five years, to directly benefit California’s $1.07 billion lettuce industry.

“Of the handlers who voted, 89% voted to continue the program,” Zischke said Mary Zischke, chief executive officer of the Salinas-based board.

Of the $873,335 in assessments that would be raised from handlers, $619,194 would go toward research in 2007. Zischke said the board is funding more food-safety related projects than ever before.

“Over a third of our budget is going to food safety research,” she said.

She said the research is primarily in support of the good agricultural practice metrics devised by the California Leafy Green Products Handler Marketing Agreement that were adopted in April by the executive committee in response to the September E. coli outbreak linked to fresh spinach.

“The leafy green marketing agreement is not doing any research,” she said. “They’re auditing to the metrics.”

She said the metrics were written based on what the industry thought should be included in order to move the marketing agreement forward quickly.

“The metrics went into a level never seen before in regards to GAPs because there were a lot of areas identified as potential risk factors,” she said. They were developed to address those risk factors, but a lot of them haven’t been studied in great detail. They had to use common sense and what they did know to establish the metrics.”

She said research projects being funded should put scientific date behind the metrics. She noted that she’s working with Trevor Suslow and Dr. Linda Harris. Suslow is a University of California researcher and Harris is a researcher at the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, University of California-Davis.

“Trevor is looking at improving methods for monitoring water quality and Dr. Harris is studying survival of E. coli in lettuce production conditions,” Zischke said. “Her project has been going on about six months and is still at the laboratory level and field studies will begin in July.”