The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) has announced that Dr. Bob Whitaker will retire in January 2020. Dr. Whitaker was the Association's first Chief Science and Technology Officer, a position which he has held for the past 11 years. In his role, he has been responsible for all food safety aspects, technical innovations for the produce supply chain, as well as sustainability.
Whitaker first took an interest in science from a young age, graduating with a degree in Biological Sciences before pursuing a Ph.D. in Biology at the State University of New York. "The biotech industry was booming in the 80s when I graduated," Whitaker recalled. "It was at this time I joined DNA Plant Technology Corporation (DNAP) and undertook research in a variety of foods. Eventually I started focusing more research on the fruit and vegetable category."
It was at this time that Whitaker came into contact with more fresh produce professionals which led him to take up a position of Vice President of Product Development and Quality at NewStar. "As I got to know more people, I became very interested in the connection between the lab and the field," he said. "After joining NewStar, the experiences I gained on this side of the industry proved invaluable as I got to see how things run."
Time at PMA
Dr Whitaker joined PMA in early 2008. At the time, the industry was still maturing in terms of how it dealt with food safety crises as was evidenced by the 2006 E-Coli outbreak in spinach. It was then that PMA decided to create the position that Whitaker filled.
"It was just after the E-Coli outbreak in spinach in 2006," Whitaker said. "We saw for the first time how an entire commodity could be shut down. It had a devastating impact on consumers and also those in the industry. PMA recognized they needed someone to head up food safety issues and provide insights into how to deal with them. It was also a time that more and more technology was being used in the produce industry."
Over 11 years at PMA, Whitaker says he is most proud of two things - the relationships the organization has built; and the significant increase in research projects in the fresh produce sphere. "Probably the most significant aspect I am proud of is the relationships we have built in the industry and what we have shared and learned from our members."
"If we go back a decade ago, we didn't have a good base of knowledge, especially for produce," he continued. "Now we have over 150 research projects that are ongoing, representing more than $26 Million in funding. Some of our projects have been expanded and we are also seeing more professionals searching for deeper insights. Along with serving on the Executive Advisory Board for the Center for Produce Safety, I consider these my most proud achievements."
Dr Whitaker said his post-retirement plans involve spending more time with his family and taking it easy after a busy career. "It's been an exciting time and I have very much enjoyed my time at PMA," he concluded. "Right now, I'm just looking forward to easing back and spending time with my family."