About FDA

Produce Safety Experts

Samir Assar, Ph.D
Produce Safety Staff, Director

Dr. Samir Assar is the Director of the Produce Safety Staff in the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Since 2008, Dr. Assar, has managed the development of FDA’s policy, regulation, and guidance on produce safety, including those mandated by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act. Dr. Assar provides strategic leadership in developing plans for research, training, and compliance activities that target a safe and abundant produce supply. Dr. Assar is committed to enhancing partnerships with produce safety stakeholders and has collaboratively forged initiatives and agreements aimed at protecting public health. Dr. Assar also serves as the FDA project leader for the Western Center for Food Safety at the University of California - Davis, whose focus is on research, education, and outreach on production agriculture and food safety issues.

Dr. Assar received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Food Science from the University of Florida.

Nega Beru, Ph.D
Office of Food Safety, Director

Dr. Beru is the Director, Office of Food Safety in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Previously, he served as Director of CFSAN’s Office of Plant and Dairy Foods, and the Division of Plant Product Safety in that office. Between 1991 when he joined FDA and 1999, he worked in the Office of Premarket Approval (now the Office of Food Additive Safety), where among other duties, he managed industry consultations with FDA regarding foods derived from genetically engineered plants in his capacity as a consumer safety officer, and later as a team leader in the Biotechnology Policy Branch where he also served as Acting Branch Chief. Dr. Beru received a bachelor's degree in the biological sciences from the University of Chicago, Chicago, IL in 1974, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry in 1983 from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, also at the University of Chicago. Dr. Beru stayed on in the department as a postdoctoral research associate/instructor and joined the faculty of the Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology as a research associate before joining FDA in 1991. Dr. Beru is the US Delegate to the Codex Committee on Contaminants in Foods.

Cecilia Crowley
Product Safety Staff, Consumer Safety Officer

Cecilia has diverse food safety experience including working as a Food Quality Assurance manager in the fresh produce industry, where she developed, implemented, and evaluated good agricultural practices and food safety and defense programs. Since joining CFSAN in 2008, Cecilia has participated in the development and enhancement of standards and commodity-specific guidance for produce, such as FDA’s leafy green, melon, and tomato guidances. In addition, Cecilia also provides policy and technical support in FDA’s response to fresh produce food borne illness outbreaks, trace back investigations, import issues, and compliance or enforcement strategy. Cecilia has also worked on the enhancement of FDA’s domestic and imported produce sampling assignments, and other produce initiatives. She actively participates in outreach efforts, teaching and developing FDA training courses, and serves as an instructor for the international and domestic GAPS training program. Cecilia actively participates in several produce-related working groups. Other than produce related activities, Cecilia has participated in National Level Emergency Exercises and National Security Events.

Cecilia earned a Bachelor’s degree in Food Science from the University of Maryland, and an Associate of Arts in Medical Laboratory Technology at Montgomery College.

Joy M. Johanson, MPH
Produce Safety Staff, Consumer Safety Officer

As a member of the Produce Safety Staff, Joy works on policy development related to fresh produce safety.  She also works on FDA’s foreign surveillance inspection program for fresh produce.  In addition, she is the CFSAN lead on the Sprout Safety Alliance, a public-private alliance working to develop a core curriculum, training, and outreach program for stakeholders in the sprout production community to enhance the industry's understanding and implementation of best practices for promoting sprout safety.

Prior to joining FDA, Joy worked for seven years at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, where, as a senior policy associate, she advocated for policies to promote healthful eating, such as to improve the nutritional quality of food sold in schools.  She has also worked on food policy issues at Bread for the World and for a member of Congress.  She received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Wheaton College and her master’s degree in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Michael Mahovic, Ph.D
Produce Safety Staff, Consumer Safety Officer

Dr. Mahovic joined the FDA in 2008 as a Consumer Safety Officer on the Produce Safety Staff. Dr. Mahovic serves as a technical expert in produce safety and plant pathology, with emphasis on microbial contamination during postharvest handling. Since joining FDA, he has also had an emphasis on the intersection between environmental stewardship and on-farm food safety, with particular focus on the safe use of soil amendments. He is involved in outreach with stakeholders, collaboration with federal and non-federal research institutions to address knowledge gaps, and in drafting produce-related FDA policy and guidance documents.

Dr. Mahovic earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida, Gainesville. Both degrees are in Plant Pathology, specializing in Postharvest Plant Pathology, with dual minors in Postharvest Plant Physiology and in Food Science. His degree and subsequent postdoctoral appointment at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center were 50/50 research and extension. 

Dr. Mahovic earned his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Florida, Gainesville. Both degrees are in Plant Pathology, specializing in Postharvest Plant Pathology, with dual minors in Postharvest Plant Physiology and in Food Science. His degree and subsequent postdoctoral appointment at Virginia Tech’s Eastern Shore Agricultural Research and Extension Center were 50/50 research and extension.

Michelle A. Smith, Ph.D
Produce Safety Staff, Senior Policy Analyst

Michelle is a Senior Policy Analyst for Produce Safety and was the lead author of FDA’s “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables” (GAPs guide).  This Guide is the basis for numerous national and international standards, including the Codex “Code of Practice for the Primary Production of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables”.  She is a nationally and internationally recognized expert, actively participating in and promoting numerous public and private projects advancing produce safety through guidance, education/outreach, and research. Michelle provides technical assistance to FDA and its stakeholders in responding to foodborne illness outbreaks associated with fresh produce and interfaces with U.S. and international partners to maintain confidence in fresh produce.

Michelle has worked at FDA/CFSAN since 1991 in multiple capacities, including: food safety, quality and composition; food defense; food standards; labeling; and nutrient content and health claims on restaurant menus. In addition to her technical expertise, Michelle also brings to the table vast expertise in policy and regulatory development processes as required by the Administrative Procedures Act, the Information Quality Act and the Freedom of Information Act.  In her 22 years at FDA, she has written a multitude of preambles, proposed rules, final rules, interim final rules, direct final rules, notices, response to comments, and agency guidance implementing Acts such as the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, Nutrition Labeling Education Act, and most recently, the Food Safety Modernization Act. 

Prior to FDA, Michelle was a Faculty Research Assistant at the University of Maryland, Horticulture Department, teaching New Product Development to advanced undergraduate students; conducting research on the physical and chemical attributes of frozen beef and poultry products; and providing assistance to the local food industry.  She was later invited back to the University to teach a graduate level course, Food Law and Policy Development.  From 1978 – 1982, Michelle was a Microbiological Technician at USDA, ARS, Seed Research Lab in Beltsville, MD. She has a Ph.D. in Food Science & Technology from the University of Maryland, an M.S. in Crop Physiology, and a B.S. in Soil Science.

Erick Snellman, Ph.D
Produce Safety Staff, Policy Analyst

Dr. Snellman earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Dartmouth, MA followed by a master’s degree in Mycology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT.  He earned his Ph.D. while working under the distinguished microbiologist, Dr. Rita R. Colwell at the University of Maryland where he worked on microbial protein chemistry. He joined the FDA in 2008, as a Consumer Safety Officer in the Division of Seafood Safety before moving to the Produce Safety Staff in 2011. At FDA, Dr. Snellman serves as a technical expert in produce safety, with emphasis on the safety of agricultural water and microbial contamination of produce.  He is involved in outreach with stakeholders, collaboration with federal and non-federal institutions, and functions as a team member in drafting produce-related FDA policy and guidance documents.

Before joining FDA, Dr. Snellman was on the Biology faculty at the Citadel in Charleston, SC where he taught microbiology and general biology.  Prior to teaching in SC, Dr. Snellman taught biology, microbiology, and molecular biology at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO over two separate tours spanning 8 years.  He earned his Ph.D. while serving on active duty.  He retired from the active duty Air Force in 2007 after serving over 22 years in a career that transitioned from C-130 navigator to scientist.

Socrates Trujillo, Ph.D.
Produce Safety Staff, Consumer Safety Officer

Dr. Trujillo is a Consumer Safety Office, Produce Safety Staff, Office of Food Safety, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  In this capacity Dr. Trujillo is responsible for developing FDA regulations for microbiological food safety with special emphasis in food microbiology and fresh produce, and traveling to accompany FDA inspectors during outbreaks and surveillance. Before joining the Office of Food Safety, Dr. Trujillo spent ten years working as a researcher in food safety at several offices within the FDA. He has organized and coordinated many FDA international food safety extension programs (e.g. International Workshop on Mycotoxins, XI IUPAC Symposium on Mycotoxins and Phycotoxins), as well as hosted several international visitors to train them in the detection of foodborne pathogens using conventional and molecular methods. Dr. Trujillo also volunteers at AOAC INTERNATIONAL, where he has been President of the Mid-Atlantic Section, chair of several committees, scientific advisor for several panels, selected to lead presidential task groups, and recently presented the Fellow Award.

Leanne Skelton
Produce Safety Staff, on Detail from USDA, Senior Policy Analyst

Ms. Skelton is currently on an extended detail assignment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the Produce Safety Staff.  In this capacity, she is working on produce safety rule development and efforts aimed at supporting the rule.  Other activities include developing strategies for outreach, education and communication, engaging other Federal and State partners, and developing approaches to the related compliance, inspection and enforcement policies.  Ms. Skelton brings over 25 years of experience with the fresh fruit and vegetable program area at USDA, where she is on staff with the Fruit and Vegetable Program area within the Agricultural Marketing Service.  Prior to this detail assignment, Ms. Skelton was Chief of the Fresh Products Branch. Ms. Skelton began her career with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets as a Farm Products Inspector.
Ms. Skelton holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the School of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University.  After college, she was a Peace Corps volunteer, working as an agricultural research officer in the Cook Islands.

"This detail assignment bridges the food safety gap between two distinct mission areas; FDA’s -- protecting and promoting public health, and AMS’ -- to facilitate the competitive and efficient marketing of agricultural products.  It enhances the working relationship between USDA and FDA on this important issue.  In food safety, everyone shares responsibility – from the farmer to the consumer and all points in between.  At FDA we also have a responsibility to recognize and consider existing programs and good practices farmers and packing houses are already implementing as we move forward on this rule and related initiatives.”

Page Last Updated: 06/23/2015
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