The Center for Produce Safety (CPS), Woodland, Calif., funded its first-ever research project to study the effectiveness of various agricultural water treatments, awarding $200,000 to a team led by Channah Rock, associate professor of soil, water and environmental sciences and water quality specialist at University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz.

The project, “Agriculture Water Treatment – Southwest Region,” signals CPS’s entry into a research area that is fundamental to fresh produce food safety—solving the safety of water applied to fresh produce crops. CPS funds will be matched equally by funds from regionally-sourced produce safety stakeholders, including members of the produce industry, academia, local and federal government, technology and other service providers.

“This project is groundbreaking for CPS and for the fresh produce industry, as we take the first step toward finding solutions to help our industry address the critical issue of safe ag water treatments,” says Dave Corsi, chair of board of directors for CPS and vice president of produce and floral for Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y. “This is also just the beginning – this project sets a precedent for future CPS awards to fund research in this area.”

The 1-year project term will focus on the Southwest region of the United States. Rock and her team will study the effectiveness of antimicrobial ag water treatments in that specific region, recognizing that there may be regional and/or site-specific variations for effectively treating water.

“Growers have access to a myriad of options for water treatment, with limited guidance to help them be successful,” says Rock. “Our goal is to develop scientific data that will inform growers on how to use ag water treatments more effectively and confidently.”

The research team will evaluate three treatment options—peracetic acid, calcium hypochlorite and ultraviolet light. At the request of CPS, the project will be mindful of the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Rule requirements for treating ag production water to ensure that resulting industry guidance will be FSMA-compliant. CPS is also establishing an industry advisory committee to inform and support the research team.