The Agricultural Research and Extension Centers are a network of 11 research centers located throughout the state that emphasize the close working relationship between the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Inside the ARECs” highlights the work and accomplishments of these 11 centers and will appear in every Insights.
Assistant Professor of Food Science and Technology and Extension Specialist Laura Strawn is located at the Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Painter, Virginia, where she focuses on enhanced microbial safety of fruit and vegetable production at both the pre- and post-harvest level.
A typical day for Strawn includes a wide variety of research-related and outreach and Extension responsibilities. Grant writing and catching up with progress reports are tempered with traveling to interact with stakeholders, or providing safety trainings.
In November 2015, the Fresh Produce Food Safety Team with whom Strawn collaborates, is offering a workshop entitled,“Packinghouse Best Practices: A Hands-on Workshop Using a Risk-based Framework to Increase Fresh Produce Food Safety.” Topics will include the difference between cleaning and sanitizing; most commonly used sanitizing agents; how to calculate a target ppm for sanitizing agents; factors that impact sanitizing effectiveness; monitoring a sanitizer within the line or other application (i.e. wash basin); keeping track of monitoring steps; and what is meant by a clean break in a packinghouse.
“Working at Virginia Tech as an assistant professor and Extension specialist has always been my dream job, so I feel extremely lucky,” said Strawn. “I love that everyday is different. As an Extension specialist you are tasked daily with solving unique problems and challenges from the industry. I have always loved puzzles, and I feel working in Extension fulfills that daily craving for the unknown. “
This past summer Strawn was able to participate as a guest lecturer of Australian Institute of Food Science Technology. On the trip she presented seven lectures around the country in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. Her lectures ranged from big data applications in food safety, use of geographic information systems to predict pre-harvest contamination in produce fields, a case study of the Salmonella outbreaks linked to the Delmarva peninsula, and other food safety research performed at Virginia Tech in her laboratory.
Currently her lab is helping the Virginia produce industry to prepare to adapt to changes in the Food Safety Modernization Act’s Produce Safety Rule that will take effect Oct. 31. To this end Strawn is evaluating options for Virginia Growers to eliminate bacteria through die-off or reduction. She is also investigating the persistence of Salmonella and Listeria in soils amended with biological soil additives.