To help federal officials understand the produce industries they regulate, University of Florida food safety experts recently took part in a cross-state tour that provided a behind-the-scenes look at growers’ operations and food safety efforts.

Five faculty members gave presentations highlighting their work to enhance the safety and quality of fruit and vegetable crops. The tour brought a delegation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to 15 farms and packinghouses.

Organizers hope the tour leaves a lasting impression, one that may prompt attendees to see regulatory issues from a broader perspective, said Martha Roberts, special assistant to the dean for research with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s critical that the people regulating agricultural crops have the knowledge and experience of seeing how the crops are grown, harvested, packed, repacked, shipped and sold,” Roberts said.

And with the FDA scheduled to develop new federal produce safety regulations, the timing couldn’t be better, she said.

The tour was organized by UF and the Center for Produce Safety, a national, non-profit scientific group based at the University of California, Davis. The center funds several UF food safety studies; Roberts is a member of its executive committee. The tour was the second such event conducted for the FDA and the first representing East Coast agriculture. The first tour was sponsored by CPS and took place in California in late 2009.