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The Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis and the California Leafy Greens Research Program awarded grants to seven leading scientists to conduct research that will provide the produce industry with new data to help mitigate the food-safety risks associated with leafy greens production.

Funded equally by the center and the research program, the awards represent the center's first collaboration under the Partners in Research Program.

Partners in Research grants are co-developed and co-funded with industry partners to address the research priorities of specific commodities, commodity groups and/or growing regions.

"The success of the leafy greens industry begins and ends with its commitment to public health," Troy Boutonnet, chairman of the research program and vice president of production at Ocean Mist Farms, said in a March 23 press release. "This collaboration represents our commitment to alleviating the food-safety risks in leafy greens. We look forward to working with the insights the research will bring, and to an ongoing relationship with CPS."

In consultation with the research program, the center's Technical Committee -- an independent advisory board comprised of experts from industry, academia and government and non-government organizations -- awarded grants to seven projects. The projects evaluate how pathogens might get transferred during growing and harvesting, and seek to identify factors that might support the survival of E. coli O157:H7 on the leaf surfaces of leafy greens throughout the growing season:

* Contribution of phyllosphere microbiota to the persistence of E. coli O157:H7 ATCC 700728 on field-grown lettuce (Maria Marco, Ph.D., University of California-Davis).

* Fly reservoirs of E. coli O157:H7 and their role in contamination of leafy greens (Astri Wayadande, Ph.D., Oklahoma State University).

* Food-safety risks associated with sheep grazing in vegetable stubble fields (Bruce Hoar, DVM, Ph.D., University of California-Davis).

* Minimizing pathogen transference during lettuce harvesting by optimizing the design of the harvesting device and operation practices (Yaguang Luo, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Agriculture, ERS).

* A high-throughput, culture-independent approach to identify index and indicator species for E. coli O157:H7 contamination (Gitta Coaker, Ph.D., University of California-Davis).

* Survival of attenuated E. coli O157:H7 ATCC 700728 in field-inoculated lettuce (Linda Harris, Ph.D., University of California-Davis).

* Comparison of surrogate E. coli survival and epidemiology in the phyllosphere of diverse leafy green crops (Trevor Suslow, Ph.D., University of California-Davis).

"Our team was proud to support the launch of CPS -- and we're especially enthusiastic about Partners in Research," Bruce Taylor, chief executive officer of Taylor Farms, said in the press release. "This program will speed to market answers this industry needs to continually enhance our safety practices."