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Center For Produce Safety
Funds Industry Studies

We profiled the launch of the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis here, highlighted the hiring of its Executive Director Bonnie Fernandez here, and, of course, have spoken to the Chairman of its Advisory Board, Tim York, many times, including here, here, here and here. We even gave Tim an award here. We also reported here when Dr. Bob Whitaker, who serves as the Chairman of the Center for Produce Safety Technical Committee, was hired to be Chief Science Officer at PMA.

Now we are pleased to note that progress is being made:


Important Step Forward in Providing Industry with the ‘Best Science’ to Enhance Food Safety

The Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis announced today the recipients of the first research awards aimed at providing the produce industry with the best science available to enhance food safety systems from field to fork. Over $500,000 in research funds were awarded to the following recipients who will engage in critical research projects over the next year.

A Sensitive and Specific Molecular Testing Method for Live Salmonella in Produce’
Principal Investigator: Beilei Ge, Louisiana State University

‘Enhancing the effectiveness of human pathogen testing systems for the advancement of practical produce safety research and commercial management’
Principal Investigator: Carol D’lima, University of California, Davis

‘Environmental effects on the growth or survival of stress-adapted Escherichia coli 015:H7 and Salmonella spp. in compost’
Principal Investigator: Xiuping Jiang, Clemson University

‘Examination of the survival and internalization of E.coli on spinach under field production environments’
Principal Investigator: Steven T. Koike, University of California Cooperative Extension

Dr. Bob Whitaker, Chief Science Officer for the Produce Marketing Association, and Chairman of the CPS Technical Committee that granted the awards, noted, ‘These awards represent a critical first step in achieving CPS’s mission of funding new scientific studies to provide the industry with the information it needs to continually enhance food safety measures.’

Tim York, Chairman, CPS Advisory Board, added, ‘I am immensely proud of the speed in which the dedicated industry, government, and academic volunteers that make up the Technical Committee were able to develop and award the research funds. We committed to setting a new standard in creating timely research to produce data that could be quickly translated into production practices — and the Technical Committee has helped us deliver on that commitment.”

Data from the research is expected by December 31, 2009. The Center for Produce Safety Technical Committee will work with the principal investigators to translate the project findings into useful and useable information for the industry.

All scientists that submitted proposals will receive a summary of comments about their proposal from the CPS Technical Committee. The CPS will issue three requests for additional proposals within the next 30 days, including a joint proposal with the United States-Israel Agricultural Research and Development Fund, and the California Leafy Greens Research Program.

Although the Center for Produce Safety is headquartered at UC Davis, that doesn’t mean UC Davis picked up an enormous amount of research funding. Researchers at UC Davis have to compete just like everyone else to get funded by the Center.

Also there isn’t quite as much money available as simple addition of the public pronouncements implies. PMA was, for example, very generous in pledging two mllion dollars to support the Center, but the decision that has been made is basically to use the PMA money to cover the administrative costs of operating the center. The hope is that others can be enticed to donate to support research if they know that 100% of their donation will in fact fund research, not overhead. It is a smart strategy and is already starting to pay off.

For example, we ran a piece earlier this year that focused on a Unique US/Israel Conference co-sponsored by the United States — Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) and now, as the press release mentions, the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis will soon announce a joint funding proposal with BARD.

The Center for Produce Safety just came out with a request for food safety proposals jointly with the California Leafy Greens Research Board:

The Center for Produce Safety and the California Leafy Greens Research Board are proud to announce a joint call for food safety proposals. The research areas are directed to answer critical research questions that fill the gaps in the basic understanding in specific areas of food safety practices for leafy greens production. The objective is to provide the leafy greens produce industry with practical, translatable research data that can be used at all levels throughout the supply chain.

Funding Available: $300,000

Research Areas:

  1. Environmental effects on growth and survival of human pathogens in soil amendments and composted fertilizers.

  2. Cultivation practices and growth or survival of human pathogens in soils.

  3. Seasonality and other correlating factors

  4. Human pathogen reservoirs and vectors.

  5. Transference of human pathogens to leafy greens during harvest.

Proposal Submission:

The complete proposal is to be uploaded to the CPS Grant Site, , no later than 5:00 pm (Pacific Time) December 22, 2008.

We will see what projects get proposed as a result of this most recent call for proposals. In the meantime, we can certainly say that these first four projects are intriguing ones and remind us of some of the projects that came about as a result of the Fresh Express initiative spearheaded by Jim Lugg, Food Safety Director for Fresh Express and Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota.

It is interesting to note that there was actually additional funding available, but the right project wasn’t submitted. Now one suspects that this problem will dissipate over time as researchers come to better understand what kinds of work the Center is looking to support.

We wonder, though, if it wouldn’t be wise to look at splitting the available funds with, say, a third going to fund the results of open calls for research proposals and the other 2/3rds going to fund teams and research priorities that the Center has predetermined.

The center could decide on a priority and then identify key experts that the Center would like to entice to research in this area, possibly in collaboration, certainly in a transparent relationship with, other researchers who have been identified as both world-class and having something important to contribute to this work.

The Center for Produce Safety is expecting to have results no later than December 31, 2009, so this effort, as with the Fresh Express effort before it, is looking for some quick, actionable research.

The appeal of this to donors and an industry rocked by food safety outbreaks is obvious, yet we suspect that the real need is something else entirely. As we listened to the research presentations at the Fresh Express Fresh Produce Safety Research Conference, virtually every project led to dozens of important questions and, in almost every case, the researchers had the same answer: “We would desperately want to carry the research forward and explore these issues — if only funding was available.”

Funding is always scarce, but we think that sustained long term support is especially scarce. We noted during the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon it was mentioned that MDA gives research grants for one, two and three year terms. In interviews with researchers, it seemed that some had been working with MDA for decades.

We would like to see multi-disciplinary teams working over a series of seasons to identify why we seem to have so many fewer food safety issues out of Yuma than out of Salinas. Is it fewer cows in the vicinity? Less overhead irrigation? Or is it just winter? Maybe something else? In any case the sustained support of research that is focused on industry goals and that uses secure funding to entice world-class researchers to make multi-year commitments seems a reasonable use for at least some percentage of the Center’s research budget.

For now the Board seems to have decided that the Center needs some quick successes to entice additional support and contributions. Perhaps they are right. We certainly hope that the four initial grants shall deliver just what the Center… and the industry… need.

Many thanks to Bonnie Fernandez and to all the members of the Advisory Board for their diligent efforts on behalf of the industry:

Rob Atwill Rob Atwill
Interim Director
Western Institute for Food Safety & Security
University of California, Davis
Western Institute for Food Safety & Security
Glenn Austin Glenn Austin
Global Stewardship Lead
Monsanto Company
Richard Breitmeyer Richard Breitmeyer
California State Veterinarian
Animal Health & Food Safety
California Dept of Food & Agriculture
Rene Cardinal Rene Cardinal
Acting National Manager
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Edo Chalutz Edo Chalutz
Executive Director
US/Israel Binational Agricultural R&D Fund
Caroline Smith DeWaal Caroline Smith DeWaal
Director for Food Safety
The Center for Science in the Public Interest
Mike Doyle Mike Doyle
Regents Professor and Director
Center Food Safety
University of Georgia
Center for Food Safety
Sam Duda Sammy Duda
Vice President
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.
Jeff Farrar Jeff Farrar
Chief, Food & Drug Branch
California Department of Public Health
Kay Filice Kay Filice
Filice Farms, L.P.
Paul Fleming Paul Fleming
Marketing & Business Development
Martori Farms
Bud Floyd Bud Floyd
VP Produce Marketing
C.H. Robinson
Hank Giclas Hank Giclas
VP, Science & Technology
Western Growers Association
David Gombas David Gombas
Senior VP
Food Safety & Technology
United Fresh Produce Association
Jim Gorny Jim Gorny
Executive Director
Postharvest Technology Research
and Information Center
University of California, Davis
Postharvest Technology R&I Center
Linda Harris Linda Harris
Extension Specialist in Microbial Food Safety
Dept. of Food Science & Technology
University of California, Davis
Western Institute for Food Safety and Security
Alec Leach Alec Leach
Taylor Farms
Jim Lugg Jim Lugg
Executive Vice President Quality, R&D
Fresh Express, Inc.
Bennie Osburn Bennie Osburn
University of California, Davis
School of Veterinary Medicine
Steve Patricio Steve Patricio
Westside Produce
William Pool William Pool
Manager of Agriculture Research
and Food Safety for Produce
Wegmans Food Markets
Tim Riley Tim Riley
VP Administration
Giumarra Companies
Martha Roberts Martha Roberts
Special Assistant to the Dean of Research
(retired as Deputy Commissioner of Ag for Florida)
University of Florida
Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences
Msark Roh Mark Roh
Deputy Regional Food and Drug
Director for the Pacific Region
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Bryan silbermann Bryan Silbermann
Produce Marketing Association
Mike Spinazzola Mike Spinazzola
Diversified Restaurant Systems (DRS)
Michael Stuart Michael Stuart
Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association
Trevor Suslow Trevor Suslow
Dept Horticulture Sciences
University of California, Davis
Department of Plant Sciences
Neal Van Alfen Neal Van Alfen
University of California, Davis
College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences
Robert Whitaker Robert Whitaker, PhD
Chief Science Officer
Produce Marketing Association
Tim York Tim York
Markon Cooperative, Inc.
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