US authorities have awarded over $10m in food safety grants to universities across the country with the aim of boosting research and education and reducing concern.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued 17 grants, ranging from $100,000 to nearly $2m, to universities across 13 states.
The grants, which totalled $10.4m for 2011, sum up the current climate surrounding food safety in the States, according to a leading food safety researcher.
“The ultimate goal is to reduce the burden of foodborne illness through sound science and consumer education,” Professor Eliot Ryser, who received funding for research, told FoodProductionDaily.com.
“Food safety is one of the areas that has remained strong in terms of federal funding with these grants continuing to target on-going food safety concerns.”
The USDA is targeting these concerns, “including the microbiological safety of fresh produce and seafood, detection and reduction of norovirus, emerging concerns surrounding non O157:H7 enterohemorrhagic E.coli and educational food safety programmes targeted at customers,” added Ryser.
Ryser, a food science professor at Michigan State University (MSU), was the recipient of the largest USDA grant this year.
He received a $1.8m grant in order to explore ways to reduce E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria contamination during the processing, packaging and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables.
This is one of three USDA grants received by the university this year – totalling nearly $3m.
His work will focus on several areas including the development of packaging systems for enhanced microbial safety and quality and the design of mathematical models for pathogen transfer during processing.
“This multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, multi-functional special emphasis project will enhance the microbial safety and quality of ready-to-eat (RTE), fresh-cut fruit and vegetable products,” added Ryser.
Improve food supply safety
The grants, which ranged from $100,000 to almost $2m, were made through the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative (NIFSI) which addresses a broad spectrum of food safety concerns including processing and distribution.
The 17 grants, which were issued to 15 universities, were announced by USDA deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan during a visit to the MSU campus.
“With millions of American contracting foodborne illnesses each year, USDA is committed to supporting research that improves the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Merrigan.
“Primarily we expect that the research and education spurred by these grants will find solutions to some pressing food safety issues.”
“Ensuring the safety of food is a top priority for USDA, and we will continue to work with our public and private sector partners on developing solutions to decrease potential risks,” she added.