Researchers seeking to develop better food safety testing for fresh produce, with a particular focus on lettuce, have received a boost in the form of a USDA grant.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) recently announced the grant of more than $348,000 to support the work at the University of Illinois.
Matt Stasiewicz, assistant professor of applied food safety at the university is heading the project. The study involves swabbing many plants in the field to capture potential pathogens, then passing those aggregate swabs to a single microbiological test.
“Safety testing is important for a ready-to-eat product that isn’t cooked before consumption. We want to ensure we find contamination if it occurs so we can remove it from the product stream,” Stasiewicz said in the announcement. “The goal of this USDA grant is to introduce transformative change into how preharvest testing works.”
“The main foodborne pathogen leafy green growers are worried about is toxin-producing E. coli; those have been responsible for outbreaks the last couple of years. We know risk factors are animal intrusion, relatively recent rainfall events, and untreated or otherwise contaminated irrigation water.”