The Produce Marketing Association has pledged $2 million to fund a research center at the University of California, Davis dedicated to reducing food-borne illnesses in fresh vegetables and fruits.

The Center for Produce Safety will be housed within UC Davis' existing Western Institute for Food Safety and Security and distribute research grants to scientists from around the country, said Jerry Gillespie, the institute's founding director.

"This is a major step forward as far as industry stepping up and providing funds for scientific research," Gillespie said Monday.

The move by PMA follows the nationwide E. coli outbreak linked to California-grown spinach.

Bryan Silbermann, the association's president, said another trade group has promised to provide funds for the center, and that federal and state government officials would be among those deciding how to divide the research money.

Gillespie said the center, as well as the umbrella institute, would ideally operate on a sustained budget furnished by public and private sources and promote both applied and basic research.

"In food safety, there are very few laboratories and investigators in this field, and one of the things that has to happen is we have to expand that capability," he said.