Jul 24, 2018
Trevor Suslow named PMA vice president of food safety

Starting this fall, Trevor Suslow will become the Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) vice president of food safety. Suslow joins PMA from the University of California-Davis, where as Extension research specialist he has been researching, advising and educating industry and other stakeholders on postharvest safety and quality.

“At this point in my career, I feel this position will provide me the platform to have the greatest impact on technical leadership for PMA members, the broader industry and affiliated stakeholders, as well as best serve the produce industry’s commitment to protect consumers around the globe,” Suslow said.

He will serve under PMA Chief Science and Technology Officer Bob Whitaker, who said that Suslow’s ability to translate ideas from the forefront of produce safety research will be key. 

“I can’t think of anybody better who can take that information and share that with our membership across all levels from a person in the field all the way up to the boardroom, what it means, how it could be used and how it could better position their companies to make safer products,” he said.

An example of how important that skillset is can be found in the follow-up to the nationwide outbreak of E. coli in romaine lettuce. Suslow said while it’s not apparent how the outbreak will directly affect Food Safety Modernization Act implementation, the guidance that industry receives from federal agencies will be affected.

“There’s no question in my mind that both their (government) findings as well as the industry deliberations and analysis of how to get better, how to do it better, what might have happened, will both influence guidance and the priorities around new research to fill in the knowledge gaps that are identified,” Suslow said.

Whitaker called the outbreak a wakeup call that shows the industry still needs to evolve and improve.

Suslow said he’s working with USDA research scientists to bring powerful modern tools that exist in the lab down to the farm level. These tools could better help characterize risk and asses certain situations.

Recent investigations point to irrigation water as being the source of the E. coli that caused the romaine outbreak. As FSMA has been implemented, irrigation water has been one of the focuses of negotiation between the federal government and industry.

“Many of these challenges as it does relate to water are going to have to be addressed on a regional basis and EPA has a critical role to help in that process,” he said.

A plant pathologist by training, Suslow earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences, and master’s and doctorate degrees in plant pathology, from the University of California, Berkeley. He then helped found and worked as a staff scientist and director of product research at DNA Plant Technology. Suslow joined UC-Davis in 1995, and has led the university’s Postharvest Technology Center since 2016.

“In addition to being well known and respected among industry and produce safety circles, Trevor brings an incredibly deep knowledge base, insights and ideas that complement the leadership PMA has taken on food safety,” said PMA CEO Cathy Burns.

Suslow said looking at the long-term challenges of increasing food safety knowledge, he sees a need to reevaluate the land grant university system and redefine or recapture the concept of a “bidirectional’ transfer of knowledge. Specifically, he meant knowledge not only needs to flow from basic research, to applied reach down to stakeholder needs, but information needs to be able flow from stakeholders back up that chain as well.

“I think that works well in certain areas and is definitely broken in others and I would hope to be able to use my experience, background and position to help with that situation,” he said.

Suslow will start as PMA’s vice president of food safety on Oct. 1, working from Davis, California.


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