PMA’s Whitaker to talk food safety at March 27 summit in Salinas

Publish Date: 
Mar 5, 2019
Bob Whitaker

SALINAS, Calif. — With this winter’s romaine E. coli outbreak still weighing on many in his audience, produce safety leader Bob Whitaker will share his latest perspective on prevention and mitigation at Salinas Valley Ag Technology Summit on March 27.

Whitaker, chief science and technology office for the Produce Marketing Association, will present the morning keynote during the sixth annual summit at Hartnell College in Salinas.

“The produce industry, and romaine specifically, have suffered through a catastrophic year as a result of illness outbreaks,” he said. “What I know for sure is that we cannot keep doing the same things we have always done and expect a different outcome. My presentation will explore where we need to go next and how we can lift our industry beyond these outbreaks.”

Whitaker, who joined the PMA in 2008 and has a Ph.D. in biology from State University of New York at Binghamton, said successful strategies will need to be crop- and company-specific. He has experience on the front lines at New Star, where he began as vice president of product development and quality and also served as vice president of innovation of food safety. For the previous 16 years, he was a research executive for DNA Plant Technology Corp.

“It seems like new technologies targeted at the ag industry are emerging every day,” Whitaker said, “but the key to leveraging these technologies to solve your business challenges is to understand what technologies make sense for you, who the experts are and how to measure success.”

“Salinas Valley Ag Tech is a great place to go to get those common sense answers.”

In line with its theme of “Tomorrow’s Technology You Can Use Today, the summit’s main day on March 27 will feature educational tracks in ag production and ag business. Topics will include the latest in precision crop management, “big data” to accelerate decision-making, blockchain traceability for food safety and initiatives to meet agricultural workforce needs in 2020 and beyond.

A third track, offered by the event’s co-organizer, the California Association of Pest Control Advisers (CAPCA), is worth up to five hours of approved credit in continuing education.

The luncheon keynote will be delivered by Glenda Humiston, vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of California. Ongoing throughout the day will be a vendor trade show, hands-on demonstrations and more.

“Each one of our sessions will offer distinct insights,” said Nick Pasculli, who chairs the 2019 summit planning committee and is CEO of TMD, a produce-focused marketing firm in Salinas. “Taken together, the entire experience will make our attendees excited about all they can achieve with new tools and new thinking.”

As always, the sixth annual event will provide unique opportunities for learning and networking while supporting agribusiness students and programs at Hartnell College. It also will spotlight the Salinas Valley’s emergence as an incubator and hub for innovation and development in ag tech.

The summit will open on March 26 with a President’s Opening Reception from 6-8 p.m., featuring local wines and hors d’oeuvres and participation by industry leaders.

The two-day event is organized by the Hartnell College Agriculture Business and Technology Institute in collaboration with the Monterey Bay Chapter of the CAPCA.

Registration, exhibitor, sponsor and other program information can be found at: