Donation helps group’s search for solutions to produce safety issues

Tim Hearden/Capital Press Valerie La Haie of G and S Farms in Brentwood, Calif., arranges corn at a farmers' market in Davis, Calif., in September 2015. The Center for Produdce Safety is halfway to its goal of raising $20 million for research into food safety issues.

WOODLAND, Calif. — An organization’s effort to help produce growers and distributors avoid contaminating the food they handle is halfway to its goal of raising $20 million for research.

A $1 million donation from Western Growers has enabled the Center for Produce Safety to reach the $10 million mark for such projects as closely watching how pathogens behave and determining which sanitizers work best for different contaminants.

The center, which is based in Woodland, hopes to reach its fundraising goal by 2020 to continue to help the industry develop safety precautions as the Food Safety Modernization Act starts to be implemented.

The donation from Western Growers, which represents farmers who grow fresh produce, continues nearly a decade of collaboration between the two organizations, president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif said.

“The safety of consumers is a top priority for our industry,” he said, adding that he encourages “every farm-to-fork stakeholder” to consider how they can contribute to building “the strongest food safety system in the world.”

In addition to the grant, individual Western Growers members have given $4.4 million for the center’s research, Nassif told reporters in a March 10 conference call.

Founded in 2007, the Center for Produce Safety is a partnership involving people in the industry, government and the scientific and academic communities, according to its website. In total, the center has given out $18.4 million over the years for such projects as assessing the food-safety impacts of delays between pistachio harvest and drying,

Research funded by the center has led to improved safety practices, including designating buffer zones for hazard management, validating the efficacy of the washing process and identifying controls that prevent salmonella from building tolerances to treatments, according to a news release.

The center’s Campaign for Produce Safety aims to expand this work with produce-specific research that seeks to strengthen food safety practices at all the “touch points” in the distribution chain, said Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, the center’s executive director.

“It is a field-to-fork analysis” that will update or establish best practices for growers, handlers, packers, retail operators and even consumers, said Steve Patricio, the center’s chairman.

The center’s efforts come as the Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is trying to persuade the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to accept its system of audits of handlers as verification of compliance with the new federal food safety rules.

The FDA announced its Produce Safety Rule in November, establishing enforceable safety standards for produce farms and requiring importers to verify that incoming food meets U.S. standards. Much of the responsibility for implementation will fall on state agriculture departments.

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