AUSTIN, Texas — Scientists presented research on animal intrusion, water treatment, buffer zones and much more at the 10th Center for Produce Safety Symposium June 18-19.
Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of CPS, noted the vast majority of research projects presented were conducted with involvement from the industry.
“I cannot say that that was the case 11 years ago or 10 years ago, so that is a great way to evolve,” Fernandez-Fenaroli said. “If you want research done to benefit industry, industry should be at the table with the researchers, and so we’re just making sure the research we do actually is a fit and it’s correct research based on our actual industry practices.
“There were so many conversations going on here about inviting the researchers out — ‘Come see my plant,’ ‘Come see the field,’” Fernandez-Fenaroli said. “That’s where you get strong research.”
Channah Rock, a scientist with the University of Arizona, gave one of the first presentations of the event, and it was one that several industry members referenced later on as research that made an impression on them.
Rock engaged in a rapid-response study on the efficacy of two sanitizers used to treat water.
“The take-home is that water treatment can be used effectively, but as an industry we cannot think of it as a kill step, and I know that we’re not talking about it necessarily as a kill step, but I think industry is thinking about it as a kill step,” Rock said. “It’s a risk reduction practice, and we can reduce that microbial load, and even though a test result says it’s zero it’s not really zero, and we need to be talking about that a bit more.”
Paula Rivadeneira, a scientist at the University of Arizona, presented research on whether falconry is an effective — and cost-effective — method of preventing bird and rodent intrusion into fields. What she found was that a combination of falconry and other methods, like the use of noisemakers and drones by people who understand bird behavior, worked better than falconry alone.
Michelle Green, a scientist at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, discussed her research into novel fence designs to prevent frog intrusion into fields. The design that performed best had a lip at the top.
Another presentation, by North Carolina State University scientist Sid Thakur, focused on establishment of vegetative buffer zones to lower the risk of E. coli and salmonella transmission from animal operations to fresh produce on co-managed farms. One question an industry member posed was whether adding the vegetation increased insect and bird activity, but that wasn’t something that was studied as part of the project.
The event included many other presentations as well, in areas including agricultural water, produce and the environment, development of microbiological tools, and packing and processing.
Advocating for research
Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association, deemed the kind of research being done by CPS-funded scientists as essential for the industry — both to point the way on better food safety practices but also to validate existing procedures.
Whitaker noted that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to food safety.
“That means when a regulator or a buyer visits the farm, they may not be looking at the same approach every time, so are you going to be prepared to be able to talk to them about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and then — data is our currency — what the data is that justifies what you’re doing?” Whitaker said.
One of the last sessions of the symposium was a buyer panel that featured Tim York of Markon Cooperative, Felice Arboisiere of Yum! Brands, Mark Mignogna of Sysco and Dave Corsi of Wegmans.
A key topic at the event was the desire to collaborate more with regulators during non-crisis situations so that, when crises occur, communication channels are already in place.
“As a buyer, we certainly would love to have a voice to engage during investigations, and then beyond the investigations, how can we have constant dialogue, because we are the closest to the customer, and we want to make sure that we don’t leave the customer just with no information,” Corsi said. “The worst thing you can do is duck and cover and hide any information of any important topic.”
In addition to making industry members aware of research that is relevant to their businesses, CPS brings to the event young people who are interested in the field. Both Fernandez-Fenaroli and Whitaker noted those students will be a major contribution of CPS to the broader industry.
“These projects we’re funding are introducing all this young talent to the produce industry, and it is amazing how many of them are hired after this event,” Fernandez-Fenaroli said. “They’re so impressive, and they’re so very articulate, and they can talk the talk about produce because they’re out there collecting the samples and they’re out there doing so much of the hard, heavy lifting on these research projects.
“It is really a benefit that sometimes we forget, but it’s a very big deal,” Fernandez-Fenaroli said.