Communicating Good Research

The Center for Produce Safety prides itself on funding food safety research that is applicable to the realities of the produce industry. In keeping with that objective, a session was held on day one of CPS’s 5th Annual Research Symposium on The Challenge of Converting Research to Operational Food Safety Practices: Where Do We Go from Here? The session moderator Bob Whitaker of the Produce Marketing Association led a discussion with a panel of industry experts including Steve Patricio, of Westside Produce and Chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board; Sergio Nieto-Montenegro, Food Safety Consulting and Training Solutions, LLC; Drew McDonald, Church Brothers/True Leaf Farms; and Deborah Carter, Northwest Horticultural Council.

One of the first questions Whitaker asked of the panel was how they bring research findings into their own operations. Food safety trainer Sergio Nieto-Montenegro responded with an answer near-and-dear to the LGMA. Nieto-Montenegro has developed some of the training programs used by the Arizona LGMA and is working with California to develop our new training curriculum. He noted that in order to even begin implementing food safety research into practical applications, we must first translate the information from “researcher” language into “worker” language. He urged researchers not to stop at publishing their findings in scientific journals, but also to communicate what they have learned in plain language people can understand.

Deborah Carr, who works with Northwest tree fruit farmers and their employees, noted that the job of educating the produce industry about important food safety research is increasingly being done by trade associations – especially since there are fewer University Extension personnel available to do this work.

The California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement’s LGMA Tech training program was also designed for this purpose. This program provides an important resource by communicating with the leafy greens industry about important research findings and training employees on why and how they should follow proper practices.

Panel member Steve Patricio correctly identified that what the government does with respect to food safety is “dictate” to the industry what they should do, because that is the role of government regulators. Meanwhile, industry groups have the opportunity to “communicate” with members on the critical need to assure consumers and buyers they can have confidence in the safety of our products. With all due respect to regulators, Patricio reiterated that from his perspective, “communicating” is a much more effective means of facilitating change than “dictating.”

Because the LGMA is a public-private partnership, we are uniquely position to both “dictate” and “communicate.” Through our mandatory government audits which require 100 percent compliance, the LGMA dictates what handlers should be doing on their farms when it comes to food safety practices. And through our LGMA Tech training program, we have a tremendous opportunity to communicate with farmers, farmworkers, supervisors, harvest crews and other employees throughout the leafy greens community. As part of our training program, we convey important research findings and speak to the industry in “worker” language so they understand how and why they need to follow food safety practices based on the best available science. This combination of government enforcement and focused communication is perhaps the best combination to establish a culture of food safety on our farms.

The role of CPS is to provide industry with good research we can communicate. This is precisely why the LGMA is participating this week in the Research Symposium and why we really appreciate sessions like this.

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