(Oct. 18) HOUSTON — Devon Zagory, interim director of the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis, said the produce industry has a historic opportunity to meet food safety issues head on.

“There is tremendous enthusiasm, money, backing and goodwill,” Zagory said Oct. 13 at a workshop during the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit 2007. “We have a mandate to do no less than make produce safer.”

Zagory said he hopes the Center for Produce Safety can give growers clear direction on food safety issues and reduce their burden of redundant audits. In addition, he sees a role for the center in establishing a basic level of competency and ethical standards for auditors.

A few months ago Zagory said he had been approached about the possibility of joining the Produce Marketing Association as vice president of science and technology, but he declined because he wasn’t looking for a full-time position.

“I spent the last 10 years starting and building a company,” said Zagory, who sold his interest in Davis Fresh Technologies LLC, Davis, Calif., about a year ago to NSF. The company is now known as NSF-Davis Fresh, and Zagory has continued to advise the company.

But with the Center for Produce Safety, Zagory said he found an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. While still working half time for NSF/Davis Fresh, he is embracing the challenges at the Center for Produce Safety.

“In many cases, members of the industry are so overloaded with conflicting requirements,” he said. “The message I hear from growers is that we want to do better, but just tell us what you want us to do.”