CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The backgrounds of scientists and their areas of focus at the Center for Produce Safety’s ninth annual symposium were certainly diverse, but presentation after presentation laid down a basic message: shared knowledge is critical.
The regulatory and produce camps, which don’t always see eye-to-eye on inspections and new regulations, stressed partnerships bolstered by CPS-funded research are helping in answering many food safety questions.
“It’s a good collaborative relationship on research,” Samir Assar, the director of the Food and Drug Administration’s division of produce safety.
“It’s a very important topic right now. We’ve got (the Food Safety Modernization Act) in effect and moving forward with implementation, and we have some public health issues we’re looking to resolve, so research is really important to help answer the questions that we have.”
Others also spoke of those public health issues, mainly two E. coli outbreaks linked to leafy greens in the past six months, the exact origins of which elude the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and groups within the produce industry.
“I think the reason we have such an exciting event this year is that there’s a lot of momentum on food safety in the industry and great interest to hear what kind of information is out there so we can improve our programs, or at least review them,” said Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, CPS executive director.
She said the CPS fulfills a need for the industry to “dive deep into food safety and think ‘Let’s see what we can else we can do’” to tackle the problem of outbreaks.
Markon Cooperative CEO Tim York, also chairman of the CPS, said the information gleaned from the center over the years allows growers to step back and rethink growing, packing and other processes.
“There’s a sense of urgency, that unfortunately with romaine and the people affected,” York said. “We’ve got do something. And we have pretty good information from the scientists that was presented.”
Drew McDonald, vice president of quality and food safety for Taylor Farms, moderated a session on past CPS-funded research June 19.
“I’m very happy to see the introduction of people from many different disciplines, diverse backgrounds, coming here to bring their skills and look at this with different eyes,” McDonald said. “I really think that’s going to be the foundation for some real advancement.”