Produce Safety Immersion Program
About the Program
The new United Fresh Produce Safety Immersion Program is a year-long program developed to build the technical capacity, critical thinking skills, and leadership attributes of the next generation of produce safety professionals. The program is comprised of three face-to-face meetings/trainings, three webinars, and an ongoing mentorship program, and will focus on developing early-to-mid career professionals with less than five years’ experience in produce safety.
Class One Activities:
In March of 2020, the United Fresh Produce Safety Immersion Program developed creative educational opportunities in lieu of the previously scheduled in-person meeting, which was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Immersion program participants met for 3 one-hour webinars per day in mid-April. Topics ranged from outbreak investigations and the role of state agriculture departments, to berry harvesting and produce safety history. Theses webinars gave program participants the opportunity to directly engage with senior level officials, including experts from the FDA, Cornell, and the produce industry. Since then, participants have continued to meet regularly for hangouts and happy hours, sometimes with surprise guests like Mayda Sotomayor-Kirk, CEO of Seald Sweet International/Greenyard USA! We look forward to seeing the inaugural class in-person later this year!
What Class One is Saying:
“Being selected to participate in the United Fresh Produce Safety Immersion Program has been an honor. We have had the opportunity to learn from key individuals from different sectors in the food safety industry, whom have allowed us to ask specific questions to further build our knowledge within the industry. We have also had a chance to learn from each other. This program has allowed us to build not only business relationships, but friendships as well. We know that we can reach out to our class members, our mentors and the panel who led discussions about any questions we may have. This opportunity has given me additional confidence to play a more active role within the industry.” – Kristina Schoen, Highland Ag. Solutions
“Being a participant in the United Fresh Immersion Program has truly been an invaluable experience. My peers and I have had the opportunity to interact with and learn from some of the best and brightest experts in the industry. The professional knowledge and growth that the inaugural class will walk away with after this year, will set the stage for the future of food safety and I could not be more excited about it!”– Taylor Livingston, Titan Farms
“Being a part of the Produce Safety Immersion Program has given me tools that I will be able to take with me throughout my career. Technical skills are always useful but what I love most about the program is the connection and unity it has given me between my peers. We have been handed a network of food safety individuals to which we can contact to share thoughts, comments, questions, and even laughs. Having the responsibility of ensuring safe food is daunting. But having a network of people to help me navigate through choices and decisions gives me the confidence in myself and my food safety program.” – Jackie Hawkins, BrightFarms
“The Immersion Program has been an incredible opportunity to meet fellow produce food safety professionals to discuss current challenges and solutions to improve produce food safety throughout the supply chain. The class along with mentors and special guest speakers ooze a passion for produce safety that makes me believe anything is truly possible with effective collaboration.” – Shelby Chih, Renaissance Farms
“I have really enjoyed my experience so far as part of the United Fresh Produce Safety Immersion Program! I appreciate all of the food safety experts and produce industry leaders that have taken the time to speak with us about developing ourselves as produce safety professionals and for giving us the technical knowledge and tools that we can use in our careers. Thank you to United Fresh for hosting the program, RFG and Ecolab for sponsoring the program, and North Bay Produce for investing in and supporting the advancement of food safety!” – Kinsey Porter, North Bay Produce
“This program has highlighted the increasing importance of understanding that Food Safety isn’t just a job it’s a lifestyle and a culture that must be lived out daily with a focus on collaboration and not individualism. The immersion program is the first step in establishing this line of thought within young produce food safety professionals and I’m glad to be a part of that. This is only further reinforced with the focus of the FDA’s on building a new era of smarter food safety.”– Ken Dreyer, Madison Chemical Co.
What our Sponsors are Saying:
“In the world of fresh produce, food safety professionals feel like our work is never done – because we don’t have a kill-step! We need to identify those who will continue the work and the Immersion Program is a great start. As one of the mentors in the Immersion Program, I have been pleased to see that these young people have the same passion for produce and food safety as those of us who have been in this field for a long time. Their eagerness to learn is encouraging since there are always new mitigation strategies and regulations to keep up with. We have been able to connect them with many experienced people that they will be able to call on for guidance long after they graduate and we are looking forward to doing the same for future classes.” -Cheryl Enlow, Renaissance Food Group, Produce Safety Immersion Mentor and Chair of the Food Safety Council
“ At Ecolab we are united by our purpose to make the world cleaner, safer and healthier – helping businesses succeed while protecting people and the world’s vital resources. The partnerships we have established with our customers stem from a common belief in maintaining a strong Food Safety Culture. It is with great pleasure that Ecolab has decided to partner with United Fresh in its first Food Safety Immersion program to help foster the continuation of a strong Food Safety Culture in the produce industry.” – Brittany Wiebe, Sr. Corporate Account Manager, Ecolab Inc. and Member of the United Fresh Safety Council.
Who Should Participate?
The application period closed on November 1, 2019.
Candidates early in their produce safety careers, food safety professionals moving from other food sectors into produce, and members of the produce industry who have recently taken on a food safety role, are encouraged to participate. Participants must be members of United Fresh Produce Association.
Who Should Mentor?
Five highly-skilled produce safety professionals will serve as mentors to the program fellows and will accompany them at each meeting over the course of the year.
Tentative Schedule of Events
(note: agenda topics are subject to change based on the composition and interests of the cohort)
Orientation: FreshStart Conference, Jan 2020
- Introductions to each other and mentors
- Overview of the year ahead
- Goal setting
Webinar 1: Back to the Basics of Micro
- Bacteria, viruses, parasites
- Growth factors
- Cell structure (DNA, RNA, ATP)
- Application to ATP swabs, WGS, etc.
Experience 2: Microbiological Testing; Location TBD; Tentatively the week of April 20, 2020 (2-3 days)
- Overview of testing methods (culture, DNA, RNA based)
- Sample preparation and handling (influence of buffers, sanitizers, temperature)
- Statistics of sampling
- Hands-on micro experience (plates, petri film, PCR, etc.)
- 1-2 Mentor examples of journal club or research reports
Webinar 2: Chemicals, Chemistries and Antimicrobials (2-3 days)
- EPA vs FDA regulation of chemicals
- Pesticides, fungicides, rodenticides
- Safety, toxicity, and MRL establishment
Experience 3: Using Food Safety Tools; Location TBD; Tentatively the week of July 20,, 2020 (2-3 days)
- Water chemistry and monitoring
- Mechanisms of action
- Influential parameters and validation
- Preharvest vs postharvest water management
- Assessing new technology
- Pilot plant swabbing
- Trending data, use of software
- Communicating results to upper management
- 1-2 Mentor examples of journal club or research reports
Webinar 3: Regulations & Standards
- US regulations: FDA, USDA, states (Food Code)
- Global regulations (CFIA, EFSA)
- Global harmonization
- Codex (governmental)
- ISO, GFSI (private)
Experience 4: Washington DC, September 21-23, 2020 (in conjunction with the Washington Conference)
- Meet with FDA
- Outbreak investigation process
- Root cause analysis
- Meet with food law attorneys
- Comparison of private food safety audit standards
- Present journal club or research projects
- Presentation to FS&T Council
- Graduation from the program
Present-Day Food Safety Leadership Advice for Future Food Safety Leaders (August-September, 2019; Food Safety Magazine)
Building Food Safety Leaders (April-May, 2015; Food Safety Magazine)
Food Safety Matters Podcast feat. Lone Jeperson: “Culture Comes First” (June 13, 2017; Food Safety Magazine)
Thank you to our program sponsors!
For questions about the program, contact Katie McGowan, United Fresh’s Food Safety Coordinator, at 202.303.3402.