COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The Food and Drug Administration is looking for industry support as it begins to organize food safety research projects associated with the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Soil amendments such as raw manure and agricultural water that has direct contact with the edible portion of plants are a focus of research, FDA officials said.

“Big research questions have to do with essentially persistence (of pathogens) in the environment,” said Samir Assar, director of the produce safety staff at the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition."

“We want to develop a standardized protocol for doing that research,” Assar said.

Rather than a variety of researchers working on the issues from different angles, Assar said FDA is establishing a research network that will include fresh produce research experts. The coordination for the effort is being done through the FDA’s Western Center for Food Safety at UC-Davis, Assar said.

Speaking at an Oct. 5 meeting with the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference, Assar said the agency looks to develop produce safety regulations that are science-based, risk-based, flexible for emerging science and technology and that take into account the diversity of farming practices.

Assar said listening sessions with growers have pointed to soil amendments and agricultural water use as two important issues to resolve.

With the its standardized protocol, the FDA will commission research studies in effort to determine how long pathogens in manure, for example, persist in the agricultural environment. Likewise, research will attempt to discover how long will pathogens in agricultural water persist when applied to fresh produce.