Fresh produce safety benefits from diverse expertise
By Tony Banegas, Center for Produce Safety

What does having a successful brand mean? For us at Bonduelle, it means our consumers can be confident in enjoying our products. Food safety is key to that confidence, and food safety starts with culture.

Food safety is part of Bonduelle’s everyday conversations — within our company, with our customers and with our industry partners. Ensuring the safety of our products is central to everything we do. In fact, I knew we had a strong company-wide food safety culture when I heard people across the company use food safety terminology.

In our drive to make a positive impact on all of our company’s stakeholders, we also continually push ourselves to learn about new advancements in produce safety. We learn by studying happenings across our industry, and from the Center for Produce Safety (CPS). What we learn from researchers reporting at CPS’s annual Research Symposium contributes to both our food safety work and culture.

CPS continuously pushes itself, too — working hard to stay on top of industry’s hottest produce safety questions, to get answers in the shortest amount of time, and to deliver research that is ready to be used at a daily, process level.

CPS’s culture benefits industry

CPS itself has a unique culture. The fact that the center was founded in 2007 as a public-private partnership raised a few eyebrows (our industry is full of independent spirits, after all). CPS was intentionally designed to bring together the diverse interests of industry, government, and scientific and academic communities, to work collectively toward the common goal of enhancing fresh produce food safety.

Now, time has shown that structure has served the fresh produce industry – and produce safety — very well.

Take, for example, CPS’s January announcement that it is funding 12 new research projects, spending $3.9 million. That announcement demonstrates how and why the diversity of the CPS community matters.

As a member of CPS’s Technical Committee, I work with 52 peers from across the fresh produce supply chain, including growers, packer/shippers, processors, retailers, foodservice and suppliers. The committee also includes academics, and state and federal agencies. Throughout the year, the committee queries industry about its biggest food safety challenges; the group’s diverse expertise brings many perspectives to that search. CPS then packages those burning questions into an annual call for pre-research proposals that helps academia understand what we need.  

We also use our varied perspectives to help researchers refine the most promising projects into full proposals for CPS’s final consideration. We each bring our own skill set and knowledge base to that table. Where I might feel like a proposal makes sense from industry’s perspective, one of our academics can understand and inform the researchers’ proposed methodology. We are very aware of our differences, and we work well together. The proposals we approve are the ones our diverse group feels will succeed; the 12 projects CPS announced in January were the best of 55 pre-proposals.

We remain hands-on once a researcher receives funding. We are available to answer any questions, such as about industry practices, or to match them with industry partners — a processor to provide wash water samples, for example.

Even CPS’s funding is diverse. As of the end of 2021, more than 60 companies from across the fresh produce supply chain have contributed more than $7.6 million to CPS’s latest research capital campaign. CPS projects are also funded with public dollars from various state governments’ Specialty Crop Block Grant Programs. Produce Processing and other trade media outlets also provide in-kind support to CPS, such as publishing this column to help CPS transfer research knowledge to industry.

Bonduelle supports the Center for Produce Safety with our money and our volunteer time because its work is cutting edge. CPS is the right organization to get to the bottom of the hottest topics in the shortest amount of time. CPS taps into what’s going on in industry, and into the right academics. To learn more about all of CPS’s funded projects, past and present, and to register for the 2022 Research Symposium, visit CPS’s website at www.CenterforProduceSafety.org.

— As vice president of food safety and industry relations for Bonduelle Fresh Americas (the U.S.-based, fresh produce business unit of Bonduelle), Tony Banegas guides the company’s food safety standards for raw products and other inputs, and interfaces with industry to ensure that Bonduelle stays connected to the hottest industry, regulatory and technology food-safety topics. He is a member of Center for Produce Safety’s volunteer Technical Committee, which keeps CPS’s research program focused on finding solutions to fuel change in fresh produce food safety.

Top photo: Pre-pandemic, members of CPS’s Technical Committee visited funded researchers in person to advise their ongoing projects; those visits now take place by Zoom. Shown in 2019: CPS Technical Committee member Jennifer Clarke, California Leafy Greens Research Board (center front) and CPS’s Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli (back right) visit with UC-Davis’ Daniel Karp, Ph.D., (far left) and members of his research team. Photo: CPS


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