Califonia Bountiful

It's a bountiful life: Consuming with confidence

September/October 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Postharvest Technology Center helps keep your meal safe

Postharvest Technology Center Director Trevor Suslow has helped improve food safety for leafy greens, bottom right. A scientist inspects a spinach leaf imprint for contamination, above right. Suslow looks on as Mariya Skots inoculates spinach with bacteria, left. Photos: © 2018 Jock Hamilton

There's a lab in Yolo County where some of science's best brains work on ways to make sure the food at your market arrives there safely from the farm. Keeping this unsung but vital effort on the move is Trevor Suslow. He became director of the Postharvest Technology Center at the University of California, with specialists in Davis and Riverside, in 2016. In October, he will become vice president of food safety for the Produce Marketing Association.

What does the Postharvest Center do? Our faculty interact and collaborate with farmers, commodity associations, boards and marketing groups to discover or establish the basic biology of quality and safety maintenance and practical handling guidance for all aspects of produce production. We develop data and information that help the growers implement prevention programs, design better systems and develop awareness training. Combined within the broad activities of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, we're really at the forefront of research and issues of high priority for the industry.

Why is the center's work important? There are direct benefits for consumers in doing the best job that everyone can to ensure a safe food supply, to build on what I consider an extremely safe food supply already. I think we've made tremendous contributions to key issues around water, around manure and compost, around specific commodities.

How much time do center specialists spend in the field? The program has always been very balanced between things that we do in the lab, things we do on our research farms and research facilities here at Davis and throughout California, but also in commercial fields, commercial packing operations, even fresh-cut, value-added bagged-salad operations. We spend a lot of time out in California, up and down coastal valleys, interior valleys, as far south as San Diego and beyond. We go all over, including other parts of the U.S., to do what we do.

How does the center's work help prevent food waste? All of the things the center has done since its inception go toward ensuring the greatest amount of product that's grown and harvested is in a suitable condition for consumption: ensuring that you don't have spoilage, timing harvest for optimum maturity, careful handling, careful packaging. The benefit is better initial quality in more convenient forms, which means more consumed and less thrown out.

What advice do you have for those who want to get into an extension and outreach career in food safety? My basic advice is, try and develop a broad exposure to the fields of food. The key challenge to being an effective professional in this area is to have a broad exposure, broad understanding of many, many different systems. Try and really develop your academic foundation as well as a practical foundation to be able to bring the two together.

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