The Center for Produce Safety's (CPS) June 20-21 symposium brought cutting edge food safety researchers to Denver to talk about current research and its application to the produce industry as well as to hear from growers and others the top priorities for new research.

The Center for Produce Safety's (CPS) June 20-21 symposium brought cutting edge food safety researchers to Denver to talk about current research and its application to the produce industry as well as to hear from growers and others the top priorities for new research. Held at the Denver Hyatt Regency, symposium attendance hit an all-time record of 325, including at least 15 members of the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (CFVGA).

CFVGA President Robert Sakata, Sakata Farms, Brighton, Colorado, CFVGA member Michael Hirakata, Hirakata Farms, Rocky Ford, Colorado; and CFVGA board member Dr. Michael Bartolo, Colorado State University's Arkansas Valley Research Center, Rocky Ford, Colorado; all served on a panel providing other attendees and researchers with the Colorado perspective on raising produce in Colorado. The three were selected for their first-hand experience with the 2011 Listeria contamination of cantaloupe in Colorado. They discussed the importance of food safety and being prepared to respond, no matter the size of the farm and even if your farm in not implicated in an outbreak.

"We lobbied hard to bring CPS to Colorado to learn what research is ongoing and planned as well as to develop relations with the experts who can come help all of us in Colorado," said Sakata. "Colorado growers have some unique conditions, for example, might our altitude impact food safety practices due to the additional level of UV waves penetrating the atmosphere?"

"I was impressed with the breadth and depth of the symposium," said CFVGA founding board member Adrian Card. "We heard 29 research presentations, followed by discussion. In addition, 23 industry professionals appeared on panels to discuss their perspectives on produce safety."

"Without science there is no produce safety rule," said Samir Assar, Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule leader with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Panelists asked What is a truly representative ag water sample? noted Sakata, who also chairs the CFVGA Water Committee.

The current testing method 1603 was discussed to be onerous for growers to comply with because most laboratories don't use that method and because there is an 9-hour window during which the sample must be tested.

"Also there are still a lot of questions whether generic E.coli is the best indicator for food borne pathogens in irrigation water," said Sakata. "Overall, it was stressed that food safety has to be a 'culture,' something practiced each and every day to be effective no matter the size of the operation."

Due to these and other issues and questions regarding agricultural water, the FSMA deadline for water compliance has been extended indefinitely. CFVGA joins other agricultural organizations in applauding the FDA's decision to extend this deadline.

CPS Executive Director Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli said, "Leaders in the produce industry are working to find food safety solutions specifically from produce safety research."

Card said producer buyers called for research to understand the conditions that foster pathogenic risks in the post farm and processing supply chain.

"Growers can be meticulous in applying the new FSMA rules, yet have no control once produce leaves their farms," said Card. "Likewise, produce buyers can follow all the rules but cannot control how a consumer handles produce once it leaves the store or warehouse."