Virginia Tech, Cornell to collaborate on remote-sensing food safety app

Staff Reporter

PAINTER, Va. — Farmers of the future may be able walk to the middle of their fields, pull out a mobile device and access a program that quickly identifies areas with potential food safety issues.
Laura Strawn, an incoming Virginia Tech assistant professor, is researching how to create such a GPS-oriented device.
Strawn, a microbiologist and postdoctoral associate at Cornell University, joins Virginia Tech in the fall. Both institutions will then develop the project jointly, she said.
“We hope that this will allow growers to better tailor their food safety plans,” Strawn said. “Knowledge is power, and we can – with science – target these problem areas.”
The program, which could arrive in the form of a smartphone or tablet application, would draw from a complicated web of research and government information, such as soil surveys and GIS mapping, to show growers what areas of their farm might be susceptible to safety issues such as food-borne pathogens. Strawn spent several years at Cornell researching those issues on New York fruit and vegetable farms, including landscape and meteorological factors that create pathogen risks.
Though it hasn’t been designed, Strawn said such a program could show, using color-coded mapping for instance, that an area of a field had a high food safety risk due to its proximity to surface water, impervious surfaces, animal pastures or the moisture in its soil.
“I think this idea of using remotely sensed data… is going to be more commonplace in the world,” she said.
The device would help growers determine which crops would most safely grow in trouble spots and create new land management strategies that minimize produce contamination – starting with a program in the palm of your hand.
“Everybody wants to win on food safety,” Strawn said.