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An Interns Perspective on the Center for Produce Safety Research Symposium

I enjoy working with students and new professionals. I’m forever indebted to those who gave me learning opportunities early in my own career, and seek to pay it forward. This summer, Marcelo Nieto-Chavez, a rising junior at Penn State majoring in food science, is interning with me. I encouraged him to attend the recent Center for Produce Safety Symposium and asked him to blog about his experience—here it is!

 

On June 18th and 19th, I had the opportunity to attend this year’s Center for Produce Safety’s research symposium in Denver, Colorado. As it was my first time attending a scientific conference, I would be lying if I said I was not a tad intimidated (a small part of me scared of not understanding anything even). Fortunately, even if some of the discussions and presentations were over my level of understanding, the experience was well worthwhile. Here are some of my insights as still an undergraduate student:

              For starters, it is awesome to see just how applicable new, emerging technologies are to the field to produce safety. Growing up, I got to see my father work in food safety; however, he specializes much more on training and teaching. Don’t get me wrong, I do admire and respect the importance of his job, but I always had curiosity to see what the “higher-tech” side of things had to offer. Over the years, I often saw reports on things like CRISPR and bacteriophages come up on the news and my YouTube feed. At CPS, it was very cool to see how new tools using technologies like these are being explored and developed. I found the presentations by Dr. Stanciu on the development of a testing kit using aptamers to help detect Cyclospora cayetanensis in agricultural water and Dr. Truchado’s presentation exploring the use of Bacteriophages to treat spinach and control Listeria monocytogenes to be incredibly interesting.

              While exploring the possibilities innovative tools and technologies hold is important, I also noticed that expanding the knowledge and use of existing methods which can be more immediately implemented is also necessary. The various Master Classes presented at the symposium offered good overviews of topics that some people in the room (i.e. me) may not be familiar with. Dr. Wiedmann’s Master Class on how produce outbreak investigations are carried out was informative, while at the same time being engaging and straight to the point on what companies should expect and how to prepare for a possible investigation.

              As a final thought, seeing how scientists design their research around the hurdles they encounter “out on the field” was interesting to see. I imagine one of the more difficult challenges of produce safety research is the sensitive nature of the topic. For understandable reasons, facilities may be reluctant to collaborate on research dealing with pathogens such as E. coli or Listeria that might implicate them. As mentioned by Dr. Castillo in his presentation, they had to visit the same facility multiple times due to the absence of more collaborators. Another interesting example I found of this was related to the results of the bacteriophage investigation. While certainly an effective treatment at a smaller laboratory scale, it is hard to know if it works at a larger scale when you can’t (for obvious reasons) inoculate a processing facility with Listeria. Following how these challenges are overcome and advances are made will no doubt be uplifting.

              Overall, I would say CPS was an enriching experience. I hope that as I progress in my career I will be able to build up my experience and knowledge to get more out of events such as these. I would like to give special thanks to Dr. Eduardo Gutiérrez for reaching out about this opportunity and to Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli and her team at CPS for providing me with a complimentary student registration. I am more than excited to be back next year and see what more can I learn!

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