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SALINAS, Calif. -- Fresh Express based here will fund nine research teams up to $250,000 each to study the E. coli O157:H7 pathogen to advance science-based practices to prevent its occurrence in fresh produce.
Although its products were not involved in the recent outbreak and never have been shown to have caused an outbreak of food-borne illness, Fresh Express said it is funding up to $2 million collectively in research under the guidance of an independent scientific advisory panel as a means to support industrywide food-safety solutions.
"The quality of the proposals was extraordinary," said Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy and the voluntary chairman of the Fresh Express Blue Ribbon Scientific Advisory Panel.
Tanios E. Viviani, president of Fresh Express, said his company "is committed to bringing healthy, safe products to consumers, and we plan to share any research findings as widely as possible to help stimulate the development of advanced safeguards within the fresh-cut industry."
According to food safety and health authorities, much remains to be learned about how the E. coli O157:H7 strain responsible for last year's fresh spinach and lettuce food-borne illness outbreaks contaminated those foods, making new research about this important pathogen and how to prevent its contamination in leafy greens and fresh produce critically important to consumers and the fresh produce industry.
One-year funding awards of up to $250,000 will be awarded to the following institutions and principal investigators:
* Subsurface contamination and internalization of E. coli O157:H7 in pre-harvest lettuce Michael P. Doyle, Ph.D., Center for Food Safety, University of Georgia
* Movement of E. coli O157:H7 in spinach and dissemination to leafy greens by insects Jacqueline Fletcher, Ph.D., Dept. of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Oklahoma State University
* Interaction of E. coli O157:H7 with fresh leafy green produce Jorge A. Giron, Ph.D., Dept. of Immunobiology, University of Arizona
* Factors that influence the ability of E. coli O157:H7 to multiply on lettuce and leafy greens Linda J. Harris, Ph.D., Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, University of California-Davis
* Fate of E. coli O157:H7 on fresh and fresh-cut iceberg lettuce and spinach in the presence of normal background microflora Mark A. Harrison, Ph.D., Dept. of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia
* Determining the environmental factors contributing to the extended survival or regrowth of food-borne pathogens in composting systems Xiuping Jiang, Ph.D., Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Clemson University
* Quantifying the risk of transfer and internalization of E. coli O157:H7 during processing of leafy greens Elliot T. Ryser, Ph.D., National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University
* A novel approach to investigate internalization of E. coli O157:H7 in lettuce and spinach Manan Sharma, Ph.D., Food Technology and Safety Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, USDA-Agricultural Research Service
* Sanitization of leafy vegetables by integrating gaseous ozone treatment into produce processes Ahmed Yousef, Ph.D., Dept. of Microbiology, Ohio State University