Why do cattle shed more harmful E. coli bacteria during summer months? Is there really a greater risk of contracting trichinosis from pigs raised outdoors?  These are some of the questions researchers will try to answer in government-sponsored studies.

Twenty-four research, education and extension grants, awarded last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) aim to reduce foodborne illnesses and deaths from microbial contamination.

The projects:

Arizona State University, Tempe, Ariz., $1,488,743 – This project will study how E. coli is transmitted from chickens to humans by analyzing bacteria found on chicken products, including meat and eggs, and evaluating these strains. This project will also evaluate a safe, easy-to-use vaccine, to protect against E. coli infections in chickens and reduce or eliminate the risk of contamination in poultry products.

University of California, Berkeley, Calif., $490,112 – This project will study the role of bacterially-produced substances on the attachment, movement and internalization of human pathogens on produce.

University of California, Davis, Calif., $361,115 – This study will examine whether a particular plant hormone is a risk factor in the persistence of E. coli on leafy greens and whether it can play a role in future strategies to minimize the potential of E. coli contamination.

University of Connecticut, Storrs, Ct., $1,498,080 – This research will investigate the toxicity, accumulation, and retention throughout the food chain of nanomaterials by agricultural crops and will explore potential risks to humans from exposure to nanomaterials through food chain contamination.

University of Connecticut, Storrs, Ct., $866,700 – This project work to determine the prevalence of the bacteria Clostridium difficile in ground beef, pork and chicken in retail stores in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Alabama, while working to identify and develop appropriate control strategies, and spread science-based information to professionals, regulatory agencies and the public.

University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $4,997,078 – This project will work to identify and optimize processing technologies to destroy human noroviruses in high risk foods, shellfish (oysters and clams), fresh and frozen berries, berry purees, green onions and salsa.

University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $444,949 – This project is focused on understanding  and characterizing the mechanisms that allow human foodborne pathogens, specifically norovirus, pathogenic E. coli and Salmonella to attach to, persist on/in and colonize plants.

Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla., $499,990 – This project will identify and describe the specific antibody contact regions on tree nuts proteins that are responsible for tree nut allergies.

University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $499,531 – This project will identify the specific Salmonella genes that allow it to attach to and persist on tomatoes.

University of Georgia, Athens, Ga., $4,998,026 – This project will evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of integrating six different food safety technologies into slaughter establishments and meat processing facilities as multiple hurdles to inactivate Shiga-toxigenic E. coli and noroviruses on beef.

Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Ill., $499,685 – This project will work to identify the specific molecular mechanisms that underlie the interactions of E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella (S. enterica) with minimally-processed leafy vegetables.

University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, $4,499,935 – This research will examine the factors contributing to the appearance of staph bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus) on raw meat and study the relationship between meat contamination and human staph infections.

University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, $40,000 – This grant will sponsor a meeting to integrate recent developments in food safety ranging from the basic causes of animal-associated antibiotic-resistant staph infections (MRSA) in humans to developments in genomics, causes and potential prevention of disease.

Michigan State University, Lansing, Mich., $2,495,877 – This project will study ways to reduce “shedding,” or the release of shiga-toxin producing E. coli from the digestive tract of cattle.

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., $499,102 – This project will work to characterize the molecular mechanisms involved in the interactions of Salmonella with peanut plants and E. coli O157:H7 with lettuce and spinach plants.

The American Phytopathological Society, St. Paul, Minn., $50,000 – This conference grant will sponsor a conference to help researchers understanding the interactions of human pathogens and plants and how to prevent them.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $2,354,004 – This project will examine Shiga-toxigenic E. coli in beef cattle in an effort to reduce the number of contaminations each year.

University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb., $500,000 – This project will develop improved methods for detecting milk and peanut residues in processed foods.

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $2,496,050 – This project will create and conduct innovative research and classroom-based graduate and undergraduate training activities in the area of food safety.

Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., $499,425 – This project will examine the means by which Salmonella survives and multiplies on plants, particularly tomatoes, and how plants defend themselves against attempted Salmonella infection.

North Carolina A&T University, Greensboro, N.C., $499,980 – This project will determine if a combination of physico-chemical and enzymatic processing conditions can reduce or inactivate food allergens by targeting their vulnerabilities as proteins.

University of North Carolina, Charlotte, N.C., $50,000 – This grant will sponsor a conference focused on vibrio bacteria, often associated with undercooked seafood, in the environment and their implications for public health and food safety.

Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, $500,000 – This research will advance our understanding of the interactions between norovirus/porcine sapovirus  and leafy greens, improving measures to reduce or eliminate norovirus-related outbreaks of foodborne illness and enhance public health.

Texas Woman’s University, Denton, Texas, $1,499,610 – This project will provide data on the emerging ochratoxin (OTA) threat by conducting a comprehensive national survey followed by a health risk assessment of foodborne OTA for the general public and high-risk populations. The project will also investigate effective strategies to reduce the exposure of the public to OTA.

Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $499,972 – This research will work to develop a comprehensive understanding of bacterial foodborne pathogen adhesion to produce surfaces and possibilities for prevention.

Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $4,999,994 – This project will work to expand the commercial possibilities of microwave technologies for the control of harmful bacterial and viral pathogens in packaged foods, particularly ready-to-eat foods, deli meats, and seafoods.

Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., $2,477,156 – This project will investigate the causes of seasonally increased shedding of shiga-toxigenic E. coli from cattle that occurs during summer months, in ord
er to develop specific preve
ntative interventions.

West Virginia State University, Institute, W.V., $50,000 – This conference grant sponsored the 16th Biennial Research Symposium of the Association of 1890 Research Directors.

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $499,993 – This project will identify tomato genes that restrict human pathogen colonization, research the mechanism that promotes the growth of human pathogens on the plant and identify mechanisms used by human bacterial pathogens to colonize plant tissue.

University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisc., $498,993 – This project will work towards the creation of an entirely new approach to reducing food allergens by modifying food proteins via conjugation with polysaccharides.

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Md., $233,750 – This project will evaluate whether outdoor pork production increases exposure to transferable parasites like Trichinella spiralis, responsible for the disease trichinosis.

USDA Agricultural Research Service, Corvallis, Ore., $12,000 – This conference grant will sponsor the 9th International Symposium on the Microbiology of Aerial Plant Surfaces.

The grants were awarded through USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered through NIFA. 

AFRI, established under the 2008 Farm Bill, supports work in six areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.

“While the U.S. food supply is generally considered to be one of the safest in the world, approximately 48 million Americans become sick each year due to food-borne illnesses,” said Catherine Woteki, USDA Chief Scientist and Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, in a news release.

“These grants support the development of a more complete understanding of the sources and implications of microbial contamination and will promote the adoption of new food safety strategies and technologies. The goal is to greatly improve the safety of our food supply and ultimately save lives.”