Produce firm names winners of E coli research grants

A scientific advisory panel assembled by Fresh Express, a California produce company, has selected nine research teams to receive awards up to $250,000 each to study how to keep Escherichia coli O157:H7 from contaminating fresh produce.

In January 2007, Fresh Express, which produces bagged salads and other produce products, announced it would provide up to $2 million for E coli research and asked its volunteer scientific advisory panel to evaluate research proposals based on five priorities. The company’s initiative came in the wake of several nationwide E coli outbreaks that were linked to fresh produce, though the firm said its products have never been associated with any foodborne illness outbreaks.

In an Apr 11 news release, Fresh Express said the nine research teams that were awarded the 1-year research grants were chosen from 65 research proposals.

Advisory panel chair Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, said in the news release that the panel was pleased with the quality of the proposals. “We were all extremely impressed by the innovative approaches and new directions being applied to E coli O157:H7 research to better understand and ultimately minimize the threat of this pathogen in fresh produce,” said Osterholm, who is director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of the CIDRAP Web site.

The nine research teams, with their principal investigators and research topic, are as follows:

* University of Georgia Center for Food Safety, Michael P. Doyle, PhD: Subsurface contamination and internalization of E coli O157:H7 in preharvest lettuce
* Oklahoma State University Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology, Jacqueline Fletcher, PhD: Movement of E coli O157:H7 in spinach and dissemination to leafy greens by insects
* University of Arizona Department of Immunobiology, Jorge A. Girón, PhD: Interaction of E coli O157:H7 with fresh leafy green produce
* Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, University of California–Davis, Linda J. Harris, PhD: Factors that influence the ability of E coli O157:H7 to multiply on lettuce and leafy greens
* University of Georgia Department of Food Science and Technology, Mark A. Harrison, PhD: Fate of E coli O157:H7 on fresh and fresh-cut iceberg lettuce and spinach in the presence of normal background microflora
* Clemson University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Xiuping Jiang, PhD: Determining the environmental factors contributing to the extended survival or regrowth of foodborne pathogens in composting systems
* National Food Safety and Toxicology Center, Michigan State University, Elliot T. Ryser, PhD: Quantifying the risk of transfer and internalization of E coli O157:H7 during processing of leafy greens
* Food Technology and Safety Laboratory, Animal and Natural Resources Institute, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Manan Sharma, PhD: A novel approach to investigate internalization of E coli O157:H7 in lettuce and spinach
* Ohio State University Department of Microbiology, Ahmed Yousef, PhD: Sanitization of leafy vegetables by integrating gaseous ozone treatment into produce process