July/August 2022 - 31

Connecting with produce-focused food safety talent
Where do you get
your fresh produce
food safety talent, and
what should you look
for in a scientist?
My board has charged
By Jennifer Clarke
Center for
Produce Safety
me with finding more
researchers to work
with, and I consider
t he Ce n t er fo r
Produce Safety (CPS)
a tremendous asset for discovering food
safety talent. CPS is not only guiding a
new generation of researchers to answer
our industry's produce safety questions,
the center is also grooming science talent
to staff industry's produce-safety teams -
as well as to lead in regulatory and other
related arenas.
Sure, we want our indust ry's
produce safety researchers and staff
to have technical skills. After all, our
researchers must absolutely be able
to design effective research projects,
while our staff teams must be able to
interpret the latest research results and
evaluate the science behind new foodsafety
technologies. Researchers and our
produce safety teams alike must also be
able to apply their scientific knowledge
to inform our best practices and improve
our standard operating procedures. We
need them to challenge our systems,
make improvements, facilitate tough
conversations and lead our companies
through difficult situations.
These young food-safety professionals'
leadership, communication and business
etiquette skills are equally important to
enhancing produce safety as their science
skills. That's where CPS's Professional
Development Program comes in.
I recently participated in this year's
program alongside other industry
executives. I had the opportunity to
talk one-on-one with the current class of
young scientists about their aspirations
- and answer their questions for us.
I joined the CPS program because I
believe it's our job as an industry to
help young scientists get started in our
field. To date, their careers have been
dedicated to science and academia. To
be effective for us, they need real-world
experience, and the skill necessary
to interact with others away from the
lab bench.
The seed for CPS's Professional
Development Program got planted many
years ago, when the center provided travel
grants so that students of CPS-funded
researchers could help staff CPS's annual
Research Symposium. CPS got needed
labor; the students got great networking
and exposure. Broadened in 2021 and
now supported partially by Bayer, the
program invites applications from Ph.D.
candidates, postdoctoral researchers and
master's program students working with
CPS-funded researchers. These scientists
are already working in the food safety
research arena, they know CPS and they
understand the fresh produce industry.
This year, eight students were chosen
to participate in CPS's program. They
are rounding out their career skills
through virtual coaching sessions,
mentorship and networking at the
symposium. In the process,
members involved with CPS get to
connect with this valuable pool of
already trusted science talent.
Students' burning question: " How do I
get fresh produce industry experience? "
I told them many growers and processors
are willing to work with them -
such as to bring them on-site to see our
facilities. I explained this results in a
valuable give and take: Industry gets a
chance to discuss our issues, and to get
scientists' perspectives. The scientists
learn a lot from industry, and industry
learns a lot from the scientists.
How can you tap into these readyto-hire
human resources? By tapping
into CPS.
1. Attend CPS's annual Research
Symposium each June, to become
versed in the year's research
learnings and to meet the young
scientists assisting there.
2. You can also reach out to CPSfunded
researchers at universities
in your geographic area.
LGMA uses video to
increase food safety
Nearly 10 years ago, the California Leafy
Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA)
partnered with STOP Foodborne Illness to
create a motivational training video for leafy
greens producers.
The video features the stories of two
young women - Rylee Gustafson and Lauren
Bush - who became seriously ill with E. coli
after eating contaminated spinach in 2006.
It also features farmer Dan Sutton, who
emphasizes to the women that he will share
their stories to help make a difference.
The award-winning video, titled " The
Why Behind Food Safety, " is shared before
each food safety training class held by the
California LGMA. It is also used across the
globe by other food producers, beyond leafy
greens farmers and the produce industry.
Several different versions of the video are
available on the LGMA YouTube page.
3. Want an introduction? Contact
I believe the produce industry offers an
exciting place for food safety scientists.
They can help answer industry's realworld
questions, and have a tangible
impact on consumer health. I gravitated
to working in agriculture because feeding
the world nutritious food excited me.
Providing safe food is an integral part
of feeding the world; an integral part of
enhancing produce safety is attracting
well-rounded food safety science talent
who are passionate about produce and
about protecting consumer health. As
decision makers in the fresh produce
industry, we can help keep emerging
produce science talent on the right track.
- Jennifer Clarke is executive director
of California Leafy Greens Research Board,
which invests in production and processing
research. As a member of Center for Produce
Safety's Technical Committee, she helps to
oversee the CPS's research program.

July/August 2022

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