May/June 2022

Column: Putting food safety research to work
By Suresh DeCosta, Center for Produce Safety

Imagine reading this headline in our trade press: “Fresh produce foodborne illnesses fall 80%.” Better yet: “15 trillion servings of fresh produce, zero deaths.”

This would be outstanding news. At Lipman Family Farms, where I am director of food safety, it would mean our industry has fulfilled our consumers’ expectations to keep their fresh produce safe. Food safety is an assumed function; no one expects to die from eating fresh produce. And to us, produce safety is a continuous journey that requires continuous learning, investment and execution.

These amazing rates of safety improvement have actually happened, in the U.S. commercial airline industry. After several deadly crashes in the mid-1990s, a small, multidisciplinary group came together to revolutionize how that industry approaches safety. While the effort hasn’t been without bumps, it has been effective. Within 10 years, the industry’s fatal accident rate had fallen more than 80%; between 2009-21, 8 billion passengers flew commercially without a single fatal crash. 

“In recent years, the riskiest part of any airline trip in the U.S. is when aircraft wheels are on the ground,” the Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor wrote in an April 2021 article about the industry’s data-driven safety reboot. “From Europe to Asia to Latin America … everyone is now trying to copy the U.S.”

What does commercial airline safety have to do with fresh produce safety? That will be the topic of a session at Center for Produce Safety’s (CPS) Research Symposium in San Diego on June 21-22. 

Why should you join us there? Two reasons: to learn how to apply the latest produce safety research to your business; and to engage with researchers, as well as your industry produce safety peers. Here’s a preview.

What’s new, and how do we put it to work?

At McDonald’s they had a saying: something isn’t real until it is happening in the restaurant. Similarly, fresh produce safety isn’t real until we incorporate it into our day-to-day operations. That starts with seeking out the latest knowledge about produce safety.

At the symposium, you will learn the findings from 10 CPS-funded projects, including (but not limited to):

  • Numerous projects evaluating how to detect and control produce safety enemy No. 1: Listeria monocytogenes.
  • Is Cyclospora now endemic to the U.S.? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Mia Mattioli, Ph.D., and University of Georgia’s Ynes Ortega, Ph.D., will report on their analysis of various U.S. ag water sources, fresh produce, and the potential role of migrant farmworkers.
  • Biofilms are a produce safety threat to fresh produce facilities from packing to fresh-cut. Clemson’s Paul Dawson, Ph.D., has built a model that can help predict biofilm growth, and Can new technologies help? Such as using cold plasma or ultra-fine ozone bubble technology to disinfect produce wash water, or antimicrobial blue light on hard surfaces.

To help make this science as relevant as possible to symposium attendees, members of CPS’s Technical Committee typically moderate researchers’ presentations. New this year, we are planning deeper discussions to even better help you apply research findings to your business. And you will get a sneak peek at what’s in CPS’s research pipeline.

Connect with the CPS community

Center for Produce Safety’s Research Symposium is also an unparalleled networking opportunity, after two years of pandemic-imposed solitude. This is the first time this group is getting together in person in two years, and there’s a lot of excitement.

Beyond the planned research presentations, this year’s symposium will gather more than 30 scientists whose work is focused on your work: produce safety. This is a rare opportunity to ask them the questions that have been nagging you — and for them to learn more about our industry’s needs.

You will also have a chance to engage with the diverse CPS community. CPS was founded to fund science, find solutions and fuel change in fresh produce food safety. It achieves that mission by bringing together leaders from industry, government, and the scientific and academic worlds. There is tremendous value in getting to interact with 500 of your produce safety peers, all gathered in one place.

Lipman Family Farms knows that when a fresh produce outbreak makes the news, that’s a bad day for the industry at large. Food safety isn’t owned by any one company, we are all in this together. So we contribute to, and volunteer our time with, Center for Produce Safety because we want to learn from CPS research, and to promote that learning to our industry. The more support CPS has, the more opportunities the center has to solve some of our industry’s technical food safety challenges. 

That’s good for our industry’s sustainability. To learn more about and register for the symposium, visit

— Suresh DeCosta is director of food safety for Lipman Family Farms, an outdoor and indoor grower, packer and repacker, and fresh-cut processor company headquartered in Immokalee, Florida with locations across North America. He is a longtime member of CPS’s Technical Committee, which guides the center’s research program. Lipman COO Toby Purse is a CPS board director.

Top photo: The Center for Produce Safety’s annual research symposium is set for June 21-22 in San Diego.

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