Interview: Ph.D. Cristobal Chaidez Quiroz

Ph.D. Cristobal Chaidez Quiroz Is a recognized researcher at national and international level. He has more than 16 years of professional experience in ​​environmental and food microbiology; he is a Chemical Biologist, from the University of Sinaloa with a Ph.D. in environmental and food microbiology from the University of Arizona.

He is currently Researcher at the National Laboratory for Research in Food Safety (LANIIA), is a member of the Mexican Academy of Sciences; Is part of the National System of Researchers Level III. He is a member of some food safety committees in Sinaloa, member of the Advisory Board of the National Association for Food Safety and Quality in Mexico (ANICA). He led several researches with institutions such as CONACYT, INAPI, Sinaloa Produce Foundation, among others; as well as international foundations and private companies. He is an expert consultant for FAO on issues related to Food Safety and Environmental Microbiology. He has scientific publications as an author in national and international journals. He is a trainer of highly specialized human resources.


  1. Could you share to us some of your professional experience?

I could say that my interest in microbiology was born when I was a kid and have my first toy microscope, then I started to get interested in the subject and that’s why I decided to study the career of, Pharmaceutical Chemical Biologist; Like most of the students who choose this career, at first, I thought of giving the clinical approach to my profession, however, I had some professors who worked about microbiology and decided to specialize in it. After I graduate I got a PhD scholarship to study Microbiology focused on water, environment and food safety from the University of Arizona.

Around 1990 with the Food Safety act with the President of the United States Bill Clinton, is where the term “Food Safety” became more popular which is based mainly on the microbiology of food and the environment.

In 1999 I finished my PhD, I had several opportunities to stay abroad, however, my goal was always to return to Mexico; When I return to Culiacán I join the Center for Research in Food and Development A.C. (CIAD), I had the opportunity to start the food safety area, at that time the director of CIAD was Dr. Jorge H. Siller Cepeda, a well-known researcher in Sinaloa who invited me to work on this project.

After several years of operating the microbiology, environmental and food laboratory at CIAD, we were able to consolidate it to what it is today, a National Laboratory for Food Safety Research endorsed by the National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT). This laboratory has been operating for four years, is accredited to the Mexican Accreditation Entity (EMA) and certified under ISO 9001: 2008.

This laboratory is specialized in: Environmental and food safety microbiology, Pesticide Residues, Techniques of Molecular Biology and Cell Cultivation, focused on strengthening Food Safety, the work of this laboratory is executed under three axes:

1) Research: Microbiology of food safety from the field to the consumer’s table; Cultivation, harvesting, all its components until they reach human consumption. We evaluate the different microorganisms that exist, of vegetal or animal origin, we characterize them and we look for alternatives preferably preventive, as well as, corrective for the contamination of the foods.

2) Training of Human Resources. The research program is complemented by a master’s, doctoral and research initiation program, in which we work together with CIAD, where LANIIA’s approach is food safety; the student’s support they research focused on the projects we develop. This research and development of human resources supports us in the development of our second axis which is the linkage.

3) Linkage: The two previous axes are strengthened by linking with the productive, social and the government sector, we do projects in conjunction with companies, we provide analytical services either microbiology or toxic analysis and that resource we get nourishes the research program. We seek that the investigations that we realize are with an applied approach to the needs of the companies, in Sinaloa we have a great interaction with the agricultural sector.


  1. What is the importance of scientific research for companies in Sinaloa?

I have had the opportunity to work with several private companies, in the case of agricultural companies I have developed projects for the use of disinfectants, organic fertilizers, planning of more consistent food safety programs, among others, however, I consider that we still have one large area of opportunity for the agricultural and agro-industrial sector, since there are several researches carried out in the laboratories that could be implemented in the companies, to make preventive actions regarding food safety, since once a microorganism gets into an agricultural operation, because is not visible to the naked eye, is more complicated to detect and eliminate it easily, so having preventive actions we can prevent these pathogens from entering the operation of the company.

In a dynamic so constant as in agriculture, it is difficult for a food safety officer to detect these situations immediately, that is why I think it is very important to professionalize the agricultural sector, to involve in these areas people who have some postgraduate, because it gives them more possibilities to link and interact with a researcher, a research center, with the companies buying their products, because for these transnational companies is very important research and development; In them there are researchers working constantly on research and innovation projects, I believe this is one of the areas of opportunity that the agricultural sector has to further develop the activity in the state of Sinaloa.

Currently in LANIIA and CIAD we seek to have students of social service or those doing their undergraduate thesis by doing professional stays in the farms, so that the student lives the experience and his investigation work is directly involved with the sector and at the same time this make more easier a contracting on the part of the companies, since these students have all the academic support of both institutions. With this initiative we have succeeded in placing several students in the productive sector.

In the case of students of master’s degrees, one year of their formation is in the laboratory and the other year it is in a project that solves a problematic in particular of some company; that research work, allows the company to have tangible results in a period of time of six months. This works through collaboration agreements with companies, which benefits both parties as it helps students to become interested in the agricultural sector for their professional specialization.

In my experience for example, I consider that a chemistry student is a professional well-suited to the area of food safety for an agricultural farm, as he has knowledge of how to mix disinfectants, such as making the disinfectant not be deactivated when mixed with another product, concentrations, etc., allowing companies to professionalize these areas of the company.


  1. What is the role of agricultural organizations in linking academia with the productive sector?

I believe that they are very important, because of their nature of joining several growers; we have had an excellent relationship with the various associations that exist in Sinaloa and have supported us to concretize projects for the growers and in the connection with the academy.


  1. Because of your experience, how do you see the evolution of fresh production in Sinaloa?

Even though the development of food safety came from overseas, as a result of the Food Safety Act of US President Bill Clinton, it moved all the foundations of what agriculture was in Mexico and above all here in Sinaloa, since the food safety was not as important as the quality issue for the products.

Over the years, other agencies have participated in order to keep food safety current, the Mexican government has recently established its new food safety rules, buyer companies and something very important the final consumer, who demand better products every day. Not only with quality but also with food safety and social responsibility, this helps a lot to make this issue start to detonate.

Many farmers see it from an ethical point of view, offering the consumer a product that is not going to cause harm to their health is very important, so I consider it to be an issue where Sinaloa has an important leadership in Mexico that it is very important to emphasize and maintain.


  1. What is the importance of food safety in the production of vegetables?

It is a very important element, as I mentioned above this are products for human consumption, in addition; because of the domino effect that has a problem of food contamination, we have lived in Sinaloa with some accusations that have made us, some have not been identified, others do; But anywhere in the world we can see where there are outbreaks of food contamination, affects not only the company, but the region and the image of the whole country to be generating poor quality products with poor hygienic practices; In the measure Sinaloa continues to have good agricultural practices we will continue to take the lead in the issue of food safety.

That is why I reiterate the importance of the professionalization of personnel in companies, since a professional person maintains his quality standards from the day he starts the operation until the day that the season ends. That prevents the risks of contamination.


  1. What are the main microbiological risks involved in the food safety of agricultural production?

A microbiological risk is the presence of a bacterium, a virus or a parasite, associated with bacteria. The main bacteria associated with agricultural products are: Salmonella, E-Coli and Listeria, mainly these three and they are bacteria that live in the environment of natural way.

In the ecosystem live beneficial bacteria, pathogenic bacteria, plants, animals, water, wild animals, where microorganisms are exchanged, so we cannot prevent them from being in the ecosystem, on the contrary it is beneficial that they are; However, what we must avoid is that they come to our agricultural operations, because once they enter they can cause problems of contamination of food and health damage of consumers.

The main routes that these microorganisms have to reach the fruit are: water, the hands of the people that interact with it and with the surfaces of contact. The first two are the most important, a contamination in the water causes pollution is distributed everywhere, so protocols always must constantly check the water quality to know in what conditions is and constantly train the staff on something as elemental as proper hand washing, we would be surprised to know that very few people know how to wash their hands properly.

The importance of the subject of handwashing in agricultural operations can be explained by a very simple example: a person who does not wash his hands and is responsible for the selection of products, where thousands of fruits pass through the day, these products arrive at a distribution center where they go to different places which can cause a problem of contamination, which can affect thousands of people, for the simple fact of not washing their hands, this situation complicates a lot to trace back the responsibilities of outbreaks, this motive or a contaminated water could be the cause of the Salmonella Saintpaul problem that sick about 1,500 people throughout the United States.

In addition to the health damages caused by a contamination problem, there are the economic risks that a company can face, a company that has these types of problems on a recurring basis is very difficult to maintain its brand and its credibility with the consumer.


  1. How much impact do you think is going to have the new international regulations such as the FSMA and the new requirements of buyers and consumers on companies?

Obviously it is to move from a very lax regulation like the first United States Food Safety Act to a more rigid modernization, in which the responsibility of the health of the consumers passes to the grower who produces it.

Nowadays consumers can perceive food safety as one of the attributes of the products, such as quality, is even part of what the same buyer who will sell the products demands as part of what the end consumer wants.


  1. In which projects for the benefit of food safety is LANIIA and CIAD currently working?

We are working on several fronts:

1) Where we have many years working is in corrective actions; Among them the main one is to strengthen the programs of food safety that the agricultural companies have, looking for the way to interact with them and to be part of its training group.

2) Know the water quality for agricultural use; evaluate the quality of the disinfectants they are using, since there are several microorganisms that are more resistant than others, that is why in the laboratory we make “challenges” where we do tests of resistance of microorganisms against disinfectants that we can deliver the test results to farmers, so that they know the effectiveness of their disinfectants against microorganisms.

3) Another projects in which we are working very updated is to generate databases of the microorganisms that are in the environment, when there is an outbreak in another part of the world and it is intended to impute that contamination of the products comes from Sinaloa, have the possibility to review our database and categorize the bacteria that exist in this region to be able to face these allegations with scientific evidence. To this purpose, we have last generation equipment at LANIIA, which has allowed us to have the possibility of working with public and private institutions, with which we also have collaboration agreements with institutions such as FDA, USDA and US Universities; we work together with them from the point of view of research, where we support each other. We share databases and try to understand how microorganisms live, how they develop, how they are able to withstand the different conditions of the region. We have reciprocal visits with the aim of having the proper interaction with the agricultural sector in both countries.

We try to make investigation that applies to the grower sector, which shows results to prevent food contamination.

The information that CIAD carries out with the companies is public, as long as there is no confidentiality agreement with the company, these projects can be executed in the same way for particular companies through this type of agreements. The results of the research can be consulted directly with the institution, on the website and through publications and research.


  1. How important are certifications for agricultural enterprises?

The certifications are very important because they help to professionalize the processes, if you do not document your operation, you can not verify it, it cannot be evaluated; if you do not train your personnel to know the documentation processes, it is very complicated to execute a management system, we are very interested in the accreditations and certifications; Ourselves as LANIIA are accredited to the Mexican Entity of Accreditation 17025 and certificated by ISO 9001: 2008, we are constantly in a process of continuous improvement of work team, equipment verification and laboratory certification.

That’s why to us to work with companies that certify agricultural enterprises or directly with companies is very positive.

  1. What are the main differences in the Eleven Rivers Certification Scheme in relation to other certifications?

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the Eleven Rivers Scheme is that it integrates two fundamental aspects that lead to the improvement of food safety: Social Responsibility and Environmental Responsibility, as a trinomial helps to improve the food safety of products.

When you train your staff in the environmental management you are collaborating to not pollute, you are helping to not damage the environment, to use water properly, to have adequate waste water, latrines, housing, which contributes to people being more careful of their hygiene and ultimately hygiene becomes food safety.

A person who works in an agricultural enterprise where he has a clean place to live, has clean water, where his children are in a decent school, who are not working in the field; lives in an environment that allows them to take safety to work, that person will take greater care in food handling, so that is fundamental, I think that is what distinguishes Eleven Rivers from other certifications that we know, that sees the company as an integral way from the point of view of food safety.


  1. Anything else you want to add?

Invite the agricultural sector to continue to seek to improve its processes, to invite them to approach Eleven Rivers, a space where they can be supported.

Being part of the Eleven Rivers team has been gratifying for me because I have met growers with a strong commitment to improving their operations for the consumer.