The continuing outbreaks of foodborne disease associate with fresh and fresh-cut produce has reduced the US consumer confidence in the microbiological safety of these products. Outbreaks of Salmonella, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, and Listeria monocytogenes in fresh vegetables illustrate the need for guidelines on production and post harvest practices that reduce contamination. As a result, the leafy greens and tomato industries in certain regions of the country have established guidelines for pre- and post-harvest food safety practices which are required by marketing orders and/or state regulations. Other retailers are also developing their own metrics or guidelines for ensuring produce safety, and the recent signing FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, which requires FDA to both develop produce safety regulations and implement performance, has made it even more critical for a solid set of metrics to be developed and validated. The research team on the USDA/NIFA/SCRI funded project “Developing Scientifically-based Consensus Food Safety Metrics for Leafy Greens and Tomatoes” are undertaking the daunting task of not only assisting with the development of guidelines but also tailoring them to fit the needs of different sized operations, regions, climates, countries and agricultural practices. It is our goal to generate data that will ensure that developing methods for leafy greens and tomatoes are scientifically valid so that they can be implemented on a national or regional basis for both domestic and imported produce. This goal will be achieved by combining sample data from growers, packers, and processors with data from designed research trials considering four sets of risk factors: (i) Water, (ii) Environmental parameters, (iii) Harvesting and processing, (iv) Temperature/food safety chain management control.
These data will provide the scientific basis to: (i) Develop new analytical tools that will allow guidelines for tomatoes and leafy greens to be validated and evaluated for cost effectiveness, (ii) Assist the industry and government agencies to develop and/or modify guidelines, (iii) Develop programs to transfer knowledge gained to the produce industry and government agencies.