In mid-September in California's Sacramento Valley the weather begins to tease us with the sense that fall is on its way. Interestingly, as the nights drop in temperature so too drops the desire for the fresh fruits we've enjoyed all summer. The melons, peaches, and plums have dwindled or disappeared from hometown fruit stands and our taste buds are being tickled by the site of the golden pears and the multiple varieties of apples newly arrived from local orchards.
Late in September our antennae go up at the sight of the colorful variety of sparkling fresh apples. During the summer months the abundance of fresh fruit might cause us not to reach for an apple, other than to pay attention to the old adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” The sight of the Washington sticker on the apple changes everything.
It's understood that it takes water to grow the fruit we consume. Something likely not appreciated is that researchers from the University of California and the Washington State tree fruit industry are working to understand the risk that water used to grow tree fruit may pose for human health. Water is a vehicle for bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
Water quality training seminars for growers that have to comply with new water testing requirements have already begun in Washington with the leadership of UC Davis researchers such as Melissa Partyka, Ronald Bond, and Jennifer Chase and Ines Hanrahan of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. Planning for others is underway in many other regions of the United States. These workshops are spreading the word about proper methods for obtaining accurate water samples in order to be in compliance with regulations in the Produce Safety Rules for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Partyka, a staff researcher and doctoral candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis, Bond, a water quality researcher and the field research manager, and Chase, a doctoral student in the Graduate Group in Epidemiology, are all in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, which is within the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security. Dr. Hanrahan has become a valuable partner and liaison to the tree fruit industry, helping to both organize and staff the inaugural workshops while advocating for greater collaboration between UC Davis and Washington State University Extension.
The UC Davis team of Partyka, Bond, and Chase, have been in Washington State conducting research and workshops, which will help answer key questions for the tree fruit industry. For instance, whether growers can sample cooperatively and the impact of hold-times on testing accuracy. The trio are members of the Western Center for Food Safety, (WCFS), a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, tasked to conduct research directly related to the FSMA food safety rule for agriculture water.
Bond, Chase and Partyka are featured in an article titled “Simple steps for water sampling” published in the July issue of Good Fruit Grower Magazine. The article, which helps demystify sampling for regulatory compliance, was based on interviews held during the agricultural water quality workshops conducted by these three in Washington last May. The main article is accompanied by two additional guides: one titled “The math of food safety,” explaining the math required for agricultural water testing and “Water sampling 101,” a simple list of dos and don'ts for water sampling.
The rows of corn stalks have dried in the summer sun. The harvest moon will soon greet us in the evening sky. As our senses tingle with the oncoming change of season, the sound of the crunch of a juicy apple is music to our ears. Is it time to start melting the caramel?