USDA-funded research aims to reduce food-borne illnesses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has awarded research, education and extension grants to 24 institutions, including Ohio State University, to reduce food-borne illnesses and deaths from microbial contamination.

“While the U.S. food supply is generally considered to be one of the safest in the world, approximately 48 million Americans become sick each year due to food-borne illnesses,” said Catherine Woteki, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics. “These grants support the development of a more complete understanding of the sources and implications of microbial contamination and will promote the adoption of new food safety strategies and technologies. The goal is to greatly improve the safety of our food supply and ultimately save lives.”

Ohio State University got $500,000 for conducting research to advance our understanding of the interactions between viruses and leafy greens with hopes of improving measures to reduce or eliminate virus-related outbreaks of foodborne illness and enhance public health. Additional projects were funded in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Other highlights include:

• A project in Iowa to examine the factors contributing to the appearance of staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) on raw meat and study the relationship between meat contamination and human staph infections;

• A project in Washington State to expand the commercial possibilities of microwave technologies for the control of harmful bacterial and viral pathogens in packaged foods, particularly ready-to-eat foods, deli meats, and seafoods;

• And a project in Florida to identify the specific Salmonella genes that allow the bacteria to attach to and persist on tomatoes.

A full list of awardees can be found online at: www.nifa.usda.gov/newsroom/news/2011news/food_safety_awards.html.

The grants are awarded through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered through NIFA. AFRI food safety grants promote and enhance the scientific discipline of food safety, with an overall aim of protecting consumers from microbial, chemical, and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption.

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