Longtime produce safety leader Trevor Suslow plans to join the Produce Marketing Association as vice president of food safety in October.
Suslow is the director of the University of California-Davis Postharvest Technology Center.
Suslow will work with members, regulators, researchers and other industry leaders to educate and advocate for a risk- and science-based approach to produce safety, according to a news release. Suslow will also work with researchers to facilitate produce safety research that can be translated into industry best practices, including representing PMA on the Center for Produce Safety’s (CPS) Technical Committee, on which Suslow has served since its inception. Suslow will report to PMA chief science and technology officer Bob Whitaker, according to the release.
“In addition to being well-known and respected among industry and produce safety circles, Trevor brings an incredibly deep knowledge base, insights and ideas that complement the leadership PMA has taken on food safety,” PMA CEO Cathy Burns said in the release. “His perspectives and connections will help us fulfill our mission and vision to grow a healthier world for industry and consumers alike. I am delighted to welcome him to PMA’s team.”
Suslow said July 24 there may be a transition period where he finishes some of his active university research projects as he begins with PMA. For the immediate future, Suslow said he will stay in Davis.
Suslow and Whitaker previously worked together at DNA Plant Technology, where Whitaker led research and development. He was the first chairman of Center for Produce Safety’s Technical Committee, and now sits on CPS’s board of directors.
Whitaker said he has known Suslow for many years and respects his work ethic and integrity for the science of food safety.
“At DNA Plant Technology years ago, when Trevor told you his results, you could take it to the bank,” he said.
“I’ve been a great admirer of the research that he’s done in produce safety, having interacted with him at the Center for Produce Safety over the course of the last decade in my tenure at PMA,” Whitaker said.
Suslow will bring the ability to talk to PMA members in a way they can see how that information can be used to develop more effective food safety programs, Whitaker said.
Suslow said the opportunity to work at PMA was something he couldn’t pass up.
“I think this is a both a unique and a very clear opportunity to really do things that today wouldn’t be possible by staying in my extension research position,” he said.
Suslow said his research background will allow him to mentor researchers new to the world of fresh produce. He said he could also play a hand in advising the most effective research designs and potentially serve on panels that determine which research projects get funded.
“I still feel that I’ll be very involved in that sort of research process. I just won’t be directing a program of my own but I’m totally happy and fine with that,” he said.
Whitaker said his goals for PMA’s food safety efforts include communicating the science coming out of the Center for Produce Safety and other research groups to members so the industry can improve overall produce safety performance. At the same time, PMA wants to communicate with researchers about produce safety priorities. Whitaker said Suslow will be a tremendous communicator with both industry and researchers.
PMA also seeks to work with regulators as they create guidance for the industry.
Whitaker also sees that Suslow could help attract new talent to the field of produce safety research.
As a lifelong educator, Whitaker said Suslow has the ability to interact with PMA’s Center for Growing Talent and assist them in helping to create an awareness among science students about the field of produce safety research.
“I think having somebody who’s recently been an educational mode, who’s used to working with students in the laboratory, who knows how to connect is going to be really important for us,” Whitaker said.
Produce safety chops
He earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences, and master’s and doctorate degrees in plant pathology, from the University of California-Berkeley, according to a news release.
Suslow helped to start and worked as a staff scientist and director of product research at DNA Plant Technology Inc., an early agricultural biotechnology pioneer.
Suslow joined UC-Davis in 1995, working in Extension Service roles. He has led the technology center for two years.
Trained as a plant pathologist, Suslow has a long record in research related to whole and fresh-cut produce.
Suslow was included in The Packer 25 leadership profiles in 2014.