WASHINGTON, D.C. — A research project is attempting to scientifically confirm what experts believe are the best food safety practices for tomato and leafy greens production, processing and transportation.

The United Fresh Produce Association Washington Public Policy Conference featured an Oct. 2 workshop on the multiyear development of the metrics, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Specialty Crops Research Initiative. The project is led by Robert Buchanan, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems at the University of Maryland and includes food specialists from the University of Maryland, the Ohio State University, the University of Florida, the University of California at Davis and the University of Delaware.

A complete outline of the project, “Developing Scientifically-basded Consensus Food Safety Metrics for Leafy Greens and Tomatoes,” is available online. The goal is to generate data to ensure that developing methods for leafy greens and tomatoes are scientifically valid so that they can be implemented on a national or regional basis for both domestic and imported produce.

“Tomato and leafy greens metrics are based on expert opinion, but no one has sat down in a scientific manner to make sure those really work,” said Dave Gombas, senior vice president for food safety for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. “It is intended to validate what people do in the field,” he said.

Gombas said the multi-state effort is looking at the science necessary to validate or establish food safety metrics for leafy greens and tomatoes. The project, gathering data since last year, is scheduled to last three years but could be extended to five years, he said. Eighteen produce industry members, representing a critical mass of leafy greens and tomato production, are participating in the project, Gombas said.

The project will use sample data from growers, packers and processors with data from designed research trials consider the risk factors of water, environmental parameters, harvesting and processing, and temperature/food safety chain management control. The project aims to determine the relation between microbial contamination in water and microbial contamination on produce. For environmental parameters, the project is looking at the potential for transference of pathogens from adjacent high-risk sources (animal operations, manure stockpiles) via wind, runoff, vehicles and other vectors.