“We expect to conclude our work this year and then reach across the entire supply chain to provide educational opportunities to ease the implementation of changes that will be recommended or create awareness around any new tools in development,” Dr. Whitaker says.
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The Center for Produce Safety (CPS), which provides the produce industry with information on enhancing the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables, has prioritized produce safety research (including but not limited to leafy greens) for more than a decade. Nearly 150 research programs have been funded thus far, with an investment of nearly $26 million. Among the research priorities, CPS is currently focused on industry issues involving animal feeding operations and agricultural water, Dr. Whitaker says.
The Acheson Group works closely with food producers at every level of the supply chain and determines how risk that isn’t adequately controlled upstream in the supply chain can carry through to the consumer. “When working with companies that grow, harvest, and process leafy greens, we look at the areas of greatest risk relative to food safety using FSMA’s regulations as a guide,” says Peyman Fatemi, PhD, vice president, Scientific Affairs, The Acheson Group, Big Fork, Mont. “FSMA regulations, when fully implemented, will go a significant distance in developing programs that will prevent microbial contamination in leafy greens.”
The Acheson Group is also working to incorporate the most current science to guide its recommendations. “Prior to the romaine outbreaks of 2018, the industry had not been treating its overhead irrigation water, which was drawn directly from irrigation canals,” Dr. Fatemi says. “There are still simple and logical steps, such as understanding the use and management of nearby land, that the industry can use to minimize the contamination of leafy greens.”
“The key is to perform a hazard analysis and then develop preventive controls to manage those risks,” Dr. Whitaker concludes. “And when contamination is discovered, it is equally important to perform a root cause analysis to identify why the contamination occurred and how it can be prevented in the future.”