Project Objectives

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A.  Industry Data: Collection of both large industry and small/medium size farm pre- and post-harvest data.  The data being collected includes, but is not limited to, microbiological and chemical analyses of water used for irrigation and other pre-and post-harvest uses; microbiological testing of soil, compost, in-field and harvested leafy greens and tomatoes; microbiological monitoring of harvest equipment and packing/processing environments.  The data will be analyzed to determine associations using appropriate informatics approaches (see Section F. Informatics, Data Analysis, and Risk Assessment).

B.  Water Sources & Use:  Water employed during primary production and subsequent packing operations of leafy greens, tomatoes and other produce has been identified as a potential source of pathogenic bacteria, viruses and protozoa. 

C.  Environmental Parameters and Conditions:  Potential for transference of pathogens from adjacent high risk sources (e.g., animal operations, manure stockpiles, compost facilities) via wind, runoff, and vectors/vehicles. Objectives in this section focus on pre-planting and crop growth period environmental factors to support validation or modification metrics for: (i) proximity to potentially high-risk contaminant sources; (ii) pre-plant intervals for flooded or manured land; (iii) flooding, and (iv) pathogen persistence from incursions by domestic animals and wildlife.

D.  Harvesting and Processing:  Laboratory simulations and field trials have identified several factors that could impact the contamination of leafy greens and tomatoes during the harvest and handling methods which vary widely with commodity and region.  The broad goal of this section is to identify and validate quantitative metrics that can provide information on whether a crop can be harvested, and ensure the effectiveness of food safety controls during harvest and subsequent handling prior to marketing.

E.  Appropriate Temperature Control and Food Safety Chain Management:  Temperature is a major factor that affects the quality and microbiological safety of fresh and fresh-cut leafy greens and tomatoes.  Each product has its own characteristic range temperatures for maintaining quality attributes which change as the product is converted to fresh-cut.  This objective are address validating existing and developing additional metrics related to effective temperature control to minimize potential pathogen amplification along the supply chain.

F.  Informatics, Data Analysis, and Risk Assessment:  The experimental data acquired as a result of the research done in Objectives A-E will be most useful when incorporated into an informatics framework.  Such a framework will allow the highly complex interactions of diverse factors to be translated into useful outputs.  The purpose of this phase of the project is to integrate data from the other sections of the project so that the relative importance of different factors can be objectively evaluated.

G.  Assist in the Development and/or Modification of Consensus Produce Safety Metrics:  As the analyses of the industry data, field trials and other analyses become available, the research team will work with its Produce Industry Advisory Panel (PIAP), Government Agency Advisory Panel (GAAP), and other stakeholders that will be involved in the development of consensus produce safety metrics to provide interpretations of the science and the implications of the findings.

H.  Extension/Outreach and Education Tools and Activities:  We will initially conduct in-depth surveys of the understanding and misconceptions of small groups of vegetable producers, food marketing companies, and private standards setting boards and consumers about the implementation of current GAP metrics in order to help shape the above research.  Additionally, consideration of educational needs related to produce safety is a critical component of our project.  Future advances in produce safety are critically dependent on providing tans-disciplinary scientists that have the unique educational foundation needed to address the complex nature of produce safety  This includes both the development of university level programs as well as certificate-based continuing education opportunities in addition to K-12 instructional activities.