The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Feb. 2 with Donald Schaffner, director for the Rutgers Center for Advanced Food Technology Extension at New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, New Brunswick. You can read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

2:02 p.m. Tom Karst: First of all, describe to our readers your position at Rutgers. By way of introduction, it was good to hear you speak at the recent growers’ convention in Atlantic City.

Q&A | Don Schaffner, Rutgers Center for Advanced Food Technology Extension

Schaffner

2:03 p.m. Don Schaffner: I have several jobs at Rutgers. The first is as extension specialist in food science. I’m also a professor who studies food microbiology, and, finally, I’m the director of CAFT. That stands for the Center for Advanced Food Technology.

2:06 p.m. Tom: You are in a field that has seen much change in recent years, not only in the way of technology but in buyer expectations of growers, and, of course, consumer attitudes. How are growers on the East Coast keeping up with the changing times?

2:07 p.m. Don: I’d say East Coast growers are beginning to understand food safety is a non-negotiable part of doing business today. And that’s probably good news. Because once the growers get on board with food safety, that will help improve the overall safety of the food supply.

2:09 p.m. Tom: The topic of your speech in Atlantic City dealt with testing produce for pathogens before harvest. I commend you for making the science understandable. What are the best reasons a grower would want to test his vegetable crop for pathogens, and, perhaps, what might be the reasons to go slow?

2:10 p.m. Don: I would say the most likely reason a grower would test his crop for pathogens is that it’s actually required by the person he’s selling that food to. I would say that growers in general tend to be suspicious of new things and new requirements that mean more work for them but no increase in income, and microbial testing for foodborne pathogens would certainly fall into that category.

2:21 p.m. Tom: As the science of taking samples advances, do you think there may be “risk-based” methods of taking samples from particular areas of a field, versus a Z-shaped sample field? What other changes do you see in testing technology in the next five years, or, perhaps, what changes would you like to see?

2:23 p.m. Don: Certainly, there might be areas in the field that would be higher risk. For example, the edge of the field that’s closer to a creek that might overflow might be higher risk. As we learn more, hopefully we can improve our sampling strategies. In terms of testing technology, we always need faster, better and cheaper tests. The good news is that the more people test, the more incentive there is for testing companies to improve their technology.