A university researcher is looking for a way to make existing scientific literature and data on food safety easily accessible to growers.

Funded by the Center for Produce Safety, the project is headed by Daniel Karp, an assistant professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the University of California-Davis. The research involves helping growers use pre-harvest tools to mitigate risks of foodborne pathogens.

Many research reports cannot be accessed by growers because they are either behind paywalls or are written in a way that is difficult to understand, Karp said. It is his team’s goal to write synopses of the literature that can be easily understood by growers, packers and others. They hope to create a tool that can be used to search for terms and provide a list of ranked articles.

Daniel Karp

Karp recognizes that this type of literature compilation already exists, but he sees the need for one with the specific scope of food safety.

“We’re having a hard time compiling this literature, and we’re trained scientists,” Karp said. “How could we expect farmers to do it?”

Fighting foodborne pathogens with microbial communities
Karp and his team are also researching the use of compost and manure on produce farms. His study is investigating whether there is an increased food safety risk from potential contributions to foodborne pathogens, or whether there are benefits to using such soil amendments to create microbial communities that can displace foodborne pathogens.

“There’s a theory that if compost or manures build up the organic matter in the soils, then this soil would be healthier, with a more diverse community of microbes that could out-compete pathogens over time,” Karp said.

The research spans a season. Karp’s team collected soil samples five times during the growing season from four different plots near Winters, CA. The soil treatments are 50 percent fertilizer and 50 percent compost. Each plot being used in the experiment has been under the same distinct management regime for 23 years and is part of the Century Experiment.

The soil samples are quickly inoculated with Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes. The researchers then monitor the die-off rates over 10-day and 30-day periods.

Though the research is still in its early stages, Karp said, “we’re seeing some results with the Century Plots where it looks like compost over the long term might be pathogen suppressive.”

For more information on Karp and his team’s research, you can read the study’s abstract here.

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