On Wednesday morning, food safety professionals in industry, academia, and government listened to a panel discussion on the future of produce safety at the Center for Produce Safety’s (CPS) 2023 Research Symposium. The panel, featuring attorney Bill Marler of Marler Clark, Inc., PS, Robert Whitaker of Whitaker Consulting, LLC, and Alexandra Belias, Food Safety Manager-Agricultural Operations at McEntire Produce, shared insights on emerging science, collaboration, and the need for change to ensure a safer food supply.

During the discussion, Marler, known for his work on foodborne illness cases, expressed a desire to retire, highlighting the importance of continuous improvement in food safety practices. He shared his experience of previously dealing primarily with E. coli cases linked to hamburger consumption and emphasized the need for proactive measures to prevent outbreaks.

Belias highlighted the industry’s increasing collaboration and the value of initiatives like the Center for Produce Safety (CPS) in fostering communication and innovation. “CPS is about that connection, it’s about the communication,” she said. “Just the idea of being able to work together fuels a lot of this innovation.”

Whitaker emphasized the need for change and the role of information in driving progress. “We can’t sit back and wait for someone to tell us what to do,” he said. “We need to take our information and do something with it.” He emphasized the importance of utilizing data effectively, changing the industry culture, and embracing continuous improvement.

The panelists discussed the challenges and complexities of food safety, including the need for better collaboration between the FDA and industry. Marler called for increased transparency and collaboration between regulatory agencies and industry stakeholders, stressing the importance of sharing information to prevent future outbreaks.

The discussion also touched on the need for root cause analysis and the role of young professionals in driving change. Belias emphasized the value of new tools and models to guide decision-making and project development, while Whitaker highlighted the importance of building a knowledge base and fostering a culture of science within the industry.

As the panel concluded, Marler left the audience with a heartfelt message. “There are people out there who, due to no fault of their own, have suffered,” he said. “If there is one thing I can bring to this going forward, there are people out there that, due to no fault of their own, suffered.”