After more than a decade of service to the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) as its first chief science officer, Bob Whitaker, PhD, has announced that he will retire in January 2020.
“I’m most proud of working with the Center for Produce Safety, which PMA helped found in 2007, to begin identifying research needs and garnering funding for research,” he says.
The center has funded more than 150 research programs with an investment of $26 million, obtained from industry fundraising efforts and government funds available to states through the Farm Bill. The center has also built a knowledge base about produce safety that the industry can use to develop risk and science-based food safety programs.
Dr. Whitaker also played an integral role in helping PMA begin offering technology-focused events that help members and non-members alike connect with innovators that might help their businesses and learn how technology might benefit them.
“PMA offers solutions in how to trace food products through the supply chain, which is one of the biggest problems that our industry faces,” he says. “Consumers want to know where their food came from.”
Looking ahead, Dr. Whitaker believes that the food industry will continue to be challenged with food safety issues. “We need to change the paradigm from an industry that looks at food safety as a checklist activity, where we fact check, perform audits, and pass tests,” he says. “That’s all great, but what we need is an active food safety approach. We should use the science and knowledge we accumulate to do a risk assessment of our operations, which requires individual engagement.”
For example, he advises looking at situations where contamination could be introduced. Then, develop controls to manage or stop it from happening. “We are now in the process of beginning to change that view,” he says. “When I came to PMA in 2008 we were certainly talking about that approach, and it is now coming to fruition.”
Dr. Whitaker will be actively working with PMA to find a successor that will help continue the work that he started. “I am confident that as we search for my successor, we will hire someone who shares PMA’s vision of translating science into best practices for our members—whether it’s for food safety or any other discipline within the sciences,” Whitaker says.