USDA Sponsors 3-year, $9.4 Million Produce Research

A three-year, $9.4 million USDA-sponsored study aimed at developing scientific evidence to support food safety standards for the production of tomatoes and leafy greens will be the largest of its kind in the fresh produce industry, according to the study’s lead investigator, Robert Buchanan, PhD, director of the Center for Food Safety and Security Systems (CFS3) at the University of Maryland. CFS3 will spearhead the study, a partnership among seven universities, the USDA and other federal organizations, and industry.

“Tomatoes and leafy greens are the two 800-pound gorillas sitting on the produce safety table,” said Dr. Buchanan. “These crops cover all types of different operations, form hobby farmers and local producers to large corporations, and getting a set of standards and guidelines to fit them all has proven to be incredibly tough.”

Key goals for the grant will be to make certain that scientific evidence exists to support proposed food safety standards such as the National Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, as well as to ensure that such standards are suitable for different regions of the country. It’s not a laboratory-based study, Dr. Buchanan cautioned, but focuses instead on what’s happening in the field. “We will combine commercial data with data that we collect in field trials at multiple locations around the country, and supplement that with growth chamber/greenhouse studies,” he said.

The grant will examine produce operations in four regions: California and the West Coast, the mid-Atlantic states, Florida, and Ohio. “After the initial results are in, we will probably seek continuing support to do validation studies in the desert southwest and in the Gulf region, particularly Texas,” said Dr. Buchanan, who added that at least one public meeting will be held to discuss the grant’s findings.

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