The latest research findings related to the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables will be highlighted Wednesday, as more than 300 scientists, industry representatives and government officials gather for the annual Produce Research Symposium at UC Davis.

The daylong conference is coordinated by the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis, a university-industry-government collaborative. Since its creation in 2007 in response to E. coli outbreaks in spinach, the center has played a unique role in providing science-based solutions to help safeguard the nation’s fresh produce supply against foodborne diseases.

This year’s symposium will include four sessions featuring presentations on new research findings in the areas of buffer zones between crops and animals; irrigation water quality; best practices for cultivation, harvest and farm management; and wash water and process control: Presentations will include:

“Reducing E. coli in irrigation water” – The project focuses on helping the produce industry identify risk-management practices and other remediation measures that reduce levels of generic E. coli in irrigation water supplies.

“Assessing postharvest Salmonella risks in pistachios” – The aim of this research was to identify points in postharvest handling of pistachios that may impact microbial safety. Those data were used to develop a risk-assessment model that can be used to enhance existing food safety risk-reduction strategies.

“Developing buffer zones between crops and sheep grazing” – Crop residues left in fields and orchards are an important source of food for livestock, however both domestic and wild animals represent a potential source of microbes that can cause foodborne diseases. This study focuses on how far – in time and geographic distance – grazing areas and crop plantings should be separated to prevent contamination from animal feces, soil, aerosols, wind, water or flies.

“Amphibians and reptiles as reservoirs of foodborne diseases” – Findings from this study will help the leafy greens produce industry determine if wild frogs, toads, lizards and snakes are potential carriers of E. coli 0157:H7 and Salmonella in California’s Central Coast region and a farming region of southeastern Georgia. The results will be used to identify co-management strategies that promote produce food safety and environmental stewardship.

“Risk assessment for Salmonella in melons and related crops” – This study aims to determine how much Salmonella must be present in irrigation water to pose a risk of fruit contamination. This information is critical for determining food-safety standards for growing cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and other melons, as well as cucumbers and squash.

The symposium will conclude with a panel discussion, moderated by Bryan Silberman of the Produce Marketing Association. Panel members will include Mike Taylor of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Mary Ellen Burris of Wegmans, Bill Schuler of Castellini Group of Companies and Stephen Patricio of Westside Produce.

In all, the symposium speakers and discussion-panel members represent approximately 24 universities, government agencies, private firms and industry organizations.