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    New Round of CPS Food Safety Research

    Meg Miller:
    Hello, this is PMA public relations manager Meg Miller, and welcome back to our audio blog, “Ask Dr. Bob” with PMA’s Chief Science & Technology Officer Dr. Bob Whitaker. We have joining us special guest, Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, Executive Director of the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Bob chairs the center’s Technical Committee and is a member of the center’s Executive Committee. The CPS has just closed its 2011 request for food safety research proposals at the end of March.

    Bob, Bonnie, what should our listeners know about this new round of research request?

    First, Meg, let me set the stage…CPS and its partners sponsor research activities designed to fill basic knowledge gaps in specific areas of food safety practices for fruit, vegetable and tree nut production, harvest and post-harvest handling. The objective is to provide the produce industry with practical, translatable information that can be used at all levels throughout the supply chain. To date, CPS has funded 43 research projects with a total investment of nearly $6.8 million.

    That’s right Bob. Now, the center and its public and industry research partners are making $3 million available to fund general and commodity-specific projects to address additional food safety research needs in the fresh produce industry. It’s important to note that this is a global research effort. We want to reach out as widely as possible geographically. In the past we’ve had institutions in Israel and Canada doing some of the research.

    Bonnie, can you tell us what specifically the new funding request is looking for?

    The 2011 RFP seeks to fund both produce-general food safety questions and commodity-specific questions. Core research priorities for produce in general look to better understand risk potential and to develop more effective food safety management tools in the following areas:

    • The use and cultivation practices regarding compost, soil amendment and fertilizer,
    • Buffer zones for domesticated animals,
    • Co-management of food safety and the environment,
    • Water,
    • Harvest practices,
    • Post-harvest produce cooling methods,
    • Post-harvest transfer of pathogens via water used during handling and processing, and
    • The significance of “positive” product test results and actual capacity to cause illness.

    And, this RFP’s commodity-specific food safety research pertains to almonds, tree fruit, leafy greens, pistachios, strawberries tomatoes, and a number of different commodities.

    How did research priorities get set?

    The RFP’s general research priorities were identified in industry risk assessments and prioritized by the CPS Technical Committee, an independent advisory board including experts from industry, academia, government and nongovernmental organizations. That group revisits those priorities on an ongoing basis to ensure they main current. The commodity-specific research priorities were developed with industry partners. 

    The CPS Technical Committee and our research partners have a wealth of information to base decisions on. After the first CPS Symposium last year, we hosted an event with FDA to review the state of food safety knowledge in different areas.  That event gave us some ideas on where more research needed to be done. On top of that, both Bonnie and I talk with people throughout the course of the year and take this input to the CPS.  We also look back on what we’ve already funded, as well as research by others, to see if topics have been sufficiently covered or if more needs to be done. The program works very hard to stay current, be flexible, and ensure it addresses the most urgent food safety research needs and issues.

    When will these projects be implemented?

    Proposals were due the 31st of March, and we’ll be announcing the awarding of the projects in the fall of 2011. Projects are typically one to two years but some can be shorter.  We want to be flexible to ensure we accomplish whatever research needs to be done.

    These projects all have a pretty quick research time frame, and that indicates the practical focus of this research. We want to be very timely and very hands-on because we’re dealing with the issues growers and processors face every day.

    So how does all this research fit in with the real-world produce industry?

    Well, Meg, as CPS’ research programs mature, our projects represent a greater and greater part of the produce chain. We initially started with production, then added processing, and we’ll continue to identify needs further along the chain. 

    This is such an important concept. One thing the history of outbreaks in recent years has taught us, is that we’re all in this together. So, while research looking at the survival of pathogens in a field may not seem important to someone who runs a store or restaurant, it’s actually as crucial to them as it is to the grower.  People at all points of the supply chain are affected by food safety issues. The entire industry is indeed tied together, so research at all those various points is important.

    CPS also recognizes the need to evaluate research and determine when decisions can be made from the results. That’s where the CPS Symposium comes in and we’ll talk more about that next time.

    We will definitely look forward to it. Thank you Bonnie and Bob for sharing with us today how this next round of research is important to our industry. Listeners, for more information on the CPS research or the upcoming symposium, go to www.cps.ucdavis.edu.
    Thanks for joining us!

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