A diverse array of research about fresh produce and food safety are on the agenda for the annual Center for Produce Safety Symposium, ranging from protective edible films for fruit to what can be done to prevent outbreaks related to leafy greens.

The symposium is scheduled for June 19 and 20 in Charlotte Marriott City Center in North Carolina. Registration information is available on the Center for Produce Safety website.

One of the panel discussions on the agenda — Leafy greens associated illness outbreaks: lessons for the future? — is particularly timely, in light of the current investigation into chopped romaine lettuce associated with an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak that has sickened almost 200 people in 35 states. Five of the people have died and 26 have developed kidney failure as a result of the infections.

“There have been a number of illness outbreaks associated with leafy greens over the last decade. Interestingly, these outbreaks have a number of similarities that may hold the key to preventing future illness outbreaks. This session will feature a compilation of data developed by CDC around these previous outbreaks,” according to the symposium agenda.

Biologist Bob Whitaker, longtime produce researcher and food safety expert, is scheduled to moderate the session. Whitaker is on the board of the Center for Produce Safety and is chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association.

The panel on the leafy greens session is scheduled to include:

  • Kari Irvin of the Food and Drug Administration’s Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network (CORE);
  • Kate Marshall of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 
  • Jennifer McEntire of the United Fresh Produce Association; and 
  • Gurmail Mudahar of the Tanimura & Antle produce company.

Another panel is scheduled to discuss what lies ahead in produce safety research. Leanna Kelly of the Markon Cooperative is on the agenda as the moderator. Panelists and their topics include:

  • Trevor Suslow of the University of California-Davis — Scientifically valid corrective actions for multiple harvest shade-house production systems;
  • Paula Rivadeneira of the University of Arizona — Use of raptors to prevent wild bird and rodent intrusion into fresh produce fields;
  • Daniel Munther of Cleveland State University — Mathematical modeling tools for practical chlorine control in produce wash process; and
  • Anita Wright of the University of Florida — Application of chitosan microparticles to eliminate foodborne pathogens in agricultural water that contacts fresh produce.

The Center for Produce Safety is a 501(c)(3), U.S. tax-exempt, charitable organization focused exclusively on providing the produce industry and government with open access to the actionable information needed to continually enhance the safety of produce. 

Board members and advisors for the center include leaders from industry, government and the academic communities to identify the most pressing research needs, fund the most promising investigations and advance real-world solutions. 

Government and industry launched the center seven years ago as a public-private partnership. It is now international in scope with projects in five countries. Since its founding, the center has awarded $16.4 million to fund 100 one- to two-year research projects at 30 universities and organizations.

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