Public Release: 

$5 million in USDA food-safety grants to target bacteria

University of California - Davis

UC Davis scientists are leading three new research projects, recently funded with more than $5 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

These grants are part of USDA's $19 million effort to ensure the availability of a safe, nutritious and economically competitive food supply.

Preventing cross-contamination in produce processing:

One project will focus on preventing foodborne illnesses by developing and eventually commercializing new fresh-produce processing technologies and methods. The new systems will minimize the risk of bacterial cross-contamination while the produce is washed, handled and packaged.

This more than $4.7 million project, conducted in partnership with Drexel and Rutgers universities, will be led by Nitin Nitin, an associate professor in the departments of food science and technology and biological and agricultural engineering. The research team will include food microbiologists, engineers, food chemists and process modelers, working to develop new procedures and technologies.

The grant includes $3 million for UC Davis-based research. For more details, visit the Biological and Agricultural Engineering web site at:

Blocking bacterial spoilage in fruits and veggies:

Another newly funded project will be led by Maria Marco, associate professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology. Marco and colleagues intend to identify the genetic basis of traits of lactic acid bacteria found on fruits and vegetables. These bacteria are important for preventing food spoilage and for producing fermented foods and beverages, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, chocolate, sourdough bread and table olives.

The researchers expect their investigations will lead to fruits and vegetables with significantly better flavor, texture and nutritional quality. The USDA-NIFA grant for this project totals more than $498,000.

Reducing harmful bacteria in leafy vegetables:

The third UC Davis project, funded with a new $499,812 grant from USDA-NIFA, will focus on two important strains of E. coli (O157:H7) and salmonella (SL1344) bacteria. Theses bacteria can invade fresh produce in the field or during processing and, when consumed, cause serious foodborne illnesses in people.

The research team, led by Maeli Melotto, assistant professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, will investigate how these bacteria enter and thrive inside leafy vegetables, especially lettuce and spinach. Findings from the study will help guide development of innovative procedures for reducing the presence of these disease-causing bacteria in leafy vegetables.

All of these grants were provided by USDA-NIFA through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.


Media contacts:

Nitin Nitin, Food Science and Technology, 530-752-6208,

Maria Marco, Food Science and Technology, 530-574-4893,

Maeli Melotto, Plant Sciences, 530-752-1747,

Pat Bailey, UC Davis News and Media Relations, (530) 752-9843,

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