(Feb. 8) Adding what Bryan Silbermann calls unprecedented scientific “bench strength” to its staff, the Produce Marketing Association on Feb. 6 named Robert Whitaker as its first scientific officer.

Whitaker will direct the creation of the Newark, Del.-based association’s new science-based programs and services, association officials said.

Whitaker said his official start date is April 1, as he will wrap up responsibilities at NewStar Foods LLC, Salinas, Calif., until that time. Whitaker is vice president of product development and innovation for NewStar, where he has worked for 10 years.

Whitaker said he will become immersed in food safety issues as he begins his work with PMA, seeking solutions that make sense for the entire supply chain.

He said NewStar has given him a chance to interact with retail and foodservice customers, in addition to having operational knowledge of growing, shipping and logistic issues.

Silbermann said the PMA board had been looking since 2006 for the right person to add to food safety and scientific expertise to the association.

“I would think the message of Bob’s hiring is that it will expand the value PMA offers members in the areas of food safety, traceability and science, as well as emerging issues such as sustainability,” he said.

Whitaker’s extensive operational experience in the industry is something PMA has never had, Silbermann noted.

“Most of all, what Bob brings to us is the ability to translate science into layman’s terms, and his understanding of business practices,” Silbermann added.

Whitaker has served on the leafy greens marketing agreement technical committee, a Feb. 6 PMA news release noted. In addition, the news release said he has developed corporate biosecurity programs and comprehensive food safety programs.

Whitaker received the International Fresh-cut Processing Association’s Technical Achievement Award in 2006 and served as chairman of that association’s board that same year.

Whitaker sits on the executive committee and the advisory board for the new Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis. He also has served on the board of directors of United Fresh Produce Association.

Silbermann said he has reached out to United Fresh Produce Association president Tom Stenzel and other staff at United about the hiring of Whitaker.

With the United Fresh Produce Association also possessing staff with strong food safety expertise — notably David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology — Silbermann said both associations can work together on issues of common importance to the industry.

“(Whitaker) is highly regarded by staff and members of United Fresh and there is more than enough work to go around on some of these issues we face,” Silbermann said.

“We congratulate Bob and we definitely look forward to working with him on industry issues,” agreed Amy Philpott, vice president of marketing and industry relations for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.