A Michigan State University researcher has received a $9.8-million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA) for a project that will work to reduce the risk of Salmonella, E.coli and Listeria in low-moisture foods such as flour.

Low-moisture foods like flour, baking mixes, dried meats, nuts, fruits and cereals are often used as ingredients in food products, which means that if one supplier faces a recall, many items that used the ingredient could be affected. Though the risk of E.coli, Salmonella and Listeria in dry foods can never be completely eliminated, this study is seeking to develop solutions that greatly reduce that risk.

Notably outbreaks from dry food since 2016:

May 20, 2016 — Salmonella Montevideo and Salmonella Senftenberg Infections Linked to Wonderful Pistachios

  • 14 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium were reported from eight states and the District of Columbia.
  • Three ill people were hospitalized and no deaths were reported.

Sept. 29 2016 —Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli Infections Linked to Flour

  • 63 people infected with the outbreak strains of STEC O121 or STEC O26 were reported from 24 states.
  • 17 ill people were hospitalized. One person developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure. No deaths were reported.

May 18 2018 — Salmonella Typhimurium Infections Linked to Dried Coconut

  • A total of 11 people infected with the outbreak strains of Salmonella were reported from nine states.
  • Two ill people were hospitalized and no deaths were reported.

July 11 2019 — E. coli Infections Linked to Flour

  • 21 people infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O26 were reported from 9 states.
  • Three hospitalizations and no deaths were reported.

The researcher receiving the grant is Bradley Marks, a professor at Michigan State University and chair of MSU’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering. Marks is not alone in his pursuit of safer low-moisture foods, working with him on the grant team are other MSU researchers and other members from Purdue University, Ohio State University, Washington State University, University of California-Davis, the University of Arkansas, the Illinois Institute of Technology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In addition to researchers on the team, there is a 12-person stakeholder advisory board with representatives from farmer-owned cooperatives, commodity groups, food processing companies, equipment companies and food retailers. The breadth of the grant is designed to encourage collaboration and networking.

“In five or six years, we will not rid the earth of pathogens in dry foods, because they’re going to be out there,” Marks says. “But if we can make a dent that reduces outbreaks of illness associated with this product category to protect public health and reduce the risk of recalls and the negative economic impact to the companies making the food, then this $9.8 million grant has paid for itself many times over.”

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