The Center for Produce Safety (CPS) has funded its first-ever research project to study the effectiveness of various agricultural water treatments, awarding $200,000 to a team led by University of Arizona's Channah Rock, Ph.D.
The project, Agriculture Water Treatment - Southwest Region, signals CPS's entry into a research area that is fundamental to fresh produce food safety: solving the safety of water applied to fresh produce crops. The project is also notable because CPS funds will be matched equally by funds from regionally sourced produce safety stakeholders. Stakeholders include the produce industry, academia, local and federal governments, and technology and other service providers.
"This project is groundbreaking for CPS and for the fresh produce industry, as we take the first step toward finding solutions to help our industry address the critical issue of safe ag water treatments," said Dave Corsi, chair of CPS's Board of Directors and vice president of produce and floral for Wegmans Food Markets. "This is also just the beginning - this project sets a precedent for future CPS awards to fund research in this area."
The one-year project term will focus on the Southwest region of the United States. Rock and her team will study the effectiveness of antimicrobial ag water treatments in that specific region, recognizing that there may be regional and/or site-specific variations for effectively treating water.
"Growers have access to a myriad of options for water treatment, with limited guidance to help them be successful," said Rock, "Our goal is to develop scientific data that will inform growers on how to use ag water treatments more effectively and confidently."
Rock and her team will evaluate three treatment options: peracetic acid, calcium hypochlorite, and ultraviolet light. At the request of CPS, the project will be mindful of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Rule requirements for treating ag production water, to ensure that resulting industry guidance will be FSMA-compliant. CPS is also establishing an industry advisory committee to inform and support the research team.
Rock is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, and a Water Quality Specialist with UA's Cooperative Extension at the Maricopa Agricultural Center in Maricopa, AZ. This is the fifth research award she has received from CPS since 2011.
This ag water research award by CPS reflects strategic changes made by the organization in 2018, to reflect changing times in fresh produce safety. CPS updated its mission to "fund science, find solutions and fuel change." The Center revamped its research program to be more flexible and responsive, updating rapid response research capability to fund urgent topics in addition to research tracks focusing on ag water solutions, Challenge Awards to find tools which help growers solve for animal intrusion, and annual research funding of ongoing produce safety topics, such as preventive controls and interventions.
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