NAPLES, Fla. — Grants worth $2.8 million to fund 17 food safety research projects have been awarded by the Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis.

UPDATED: Center for Produce Safety awards $2.8 million

Doug Ohlemeier

Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli, executive director of the Center for Produce Safety, Davis, Calif., discusses the center’s releasing of a series of produce food safety research grants during a food safety session at the 67th Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association convention Sept. 21 in Naples, Fla.

CPS executive director Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli announced the awards Sept. 21 at the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association’s annual convention in Naples, Fla. Since 2008, CPS has funded 41 research projects worth $6.8 million.

After reviewing 44 research proposals, the CPS technical committee chaired by Produce Marketing Association’s chief science and technology officer Bob Whitaker funded these 17 projects:

  • $330,541: Risk of cross-contamination of head lettuce by E. coli O157:H7, salmonella and norovirus during hand harvest. Jennifer Cannon, University of Georgia.
  • $313,513: Risks for salmonella contamination of irrigation water at mixed produce farms in the Suwannee River watershed. Anita Wright, University of Florida, Gainesville.
  • $296,360: E. coli O157:H7 in bioaerosols from cattle; assessing airborne transport on leafy green crop contamination. Elaine Berry, USDA, ARS.
  • $235,787: Survival, transfer and inactivation of salmonella on plastic materials used in tomato harvest. Lynne McLandsborough, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  • $296,368: Strategies to improve microbial safety in composting process control and handling practices. Xiuping Jiang, Clemson University, S.C.
  • $142,523: Amphibians and reptiles as potential reservoirs of foodborne pathogens and risk reduction to protect fresh produce. Michele Jay-Russell, University of California, Davis.
  • $118,000: E. coli survival on contaminated crop residue. Steven Koike, University of California Cooperative Extension.
  • $117,445: Pathogen transfer risks in tomato harvest and packing operations. Michelle Danyluk, University of Florida.
  • $101,325: Water disinfection based on filtration and UV to enhance fresh produce washing. Keith Warriner, University of Guelph, Ontario.
  • $96,935: Pre-harvest environment influence on salmonella and its impact on increased survival capability. Linda Harris, University of California, Davis.
  • $95,454: Developing a program to educate the walnut supply chain on product handling and safety. Devon Zagory, Zagory & Associates, Davis.
  • $169,575: Developing buffer zone distances between sheep grazing operations and vegetable crops to maximize food safety risks. Bruce Hoar, University of California-Davis.
  • $70,104: Impact of organic load on sanitizer efficacy and recovery of E. coli O157:H7 during commercial lettuce processing. Elliot Ryser, Michigan State University, Lansing.
  • $188,271: Reducing susceptibility of tomatoes and peppers to post-harvest contamination, pathogen transfer and proliferation of salmonella. Max Teplitski, University of Florida.
  • $58,885: Evaluation of the baseline levels of microbial pathogens on Washington state fresh market apples and mitigation measures used to eliminate contamination. Diane Wetherington, Intertox, Seattle.
  • $92,285: Risk assessment of salmonella preharvest internalization due to irrigation water quality standards for melons and cucurbits. Trevor Suslow, University of California, Davis.
  • $45,008: Imaging to evaluate potential infusion of pathogens during vacuum cooling of lettuce leaves and real-time dynamics of microbes on leaf tissues as a function of moisture content. Nitin Nitin, University of California, Davis.

Funding is effective Jan. 1.

Fernandez-Fenaroli said funding the projects should help bring science to the discussion of food safety rules.

“These are very specific and very targeted questions,” she said. “The 17 projects are specific to the produce industry and drill down to what we need to know. We are looking at the one and two year research that’s needed, the applied research that can be integrated into practice.”

“On behalf of our partners, we are eager to demonstrate the power of leveraging public and private commitments to address critical research questions,” Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative and chairman of the CPS advisory board, said in a news release. “These collaborations are the way of the future and we will work to foster them as long as they produce results.”

Tim York, president of Salinas, Calif.-based foodservice distributor Markon Cooperative and chair of the CPS advisory board, said that by filling gaps in knowledge, the research projects will enhance food safety and consumer confidence.

One such knowledge gap, York said, is reflected in the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement metric on composting.

“It says, ‘due to the lack of science at this time, an interim guidance of 400 feet from the edge of the crop is proposed,’” York said. “That can change as science proceeds.

“We don’t want to tout to consumers that we’re making educated guesses, but sometimes we really are making educated guesses as to what to do,” he said. “We’re trying to get to the heart of what we know and don’t know.”

(Note on correction: Some of the grant amounts were incorrect in the original article.)