A $1.3 million grant to develop a new food-safety training program for government and industry has been awarded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

The grant funds the first year of a five-year agreement, and is renewable for a total of $6.5 million. The grant is focused on preventing food-borne illnesses, which each year sicken 48 million people in the United States and cause 3,000 deaths. It is part of an FDA competitive grants program that aims to build an integrated national food safety system, as mandated by the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011.

“UC Davis, with its deep expertise in veterinary medicine, agriculture and human health, is ideally equipped to address the food-safety training needs of the United States,” said UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, “We are proud to play this important role in safeguarding the nation’s food supply and the health of our citizens.”

The goal of the newly funded project is to develop a National Food Safety Curriculum that can be used to train food-industry and agency personnel at all levels, including inspectors, managers and leaders. The project also will create and improve course content to meet or exceed a national accreditation standard, with a focus on specialty produce crops, dairy and laboratory operations.

The FDA will use the information to develop uniform national standards for inspections, investigations and laboratory testing, as well as training and certification requirements, auditing criteria and metrics for evaluating program performance.

The School of Veterinary Medicine is noted for its strengths in developing training programs for food professionals and in conducting epidemiological, diagnostic and research efforts. It will work cooperatively through the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis. The institute was established in 2002 to draw together leading food-safety scientists from academia and state government to study food safety and security issues, and provide food-safety education programs for consumers and food-related industries.

“Foodborne illnesses annually cost the U.S. economy $152 billion in health care expenses, lost wages and production inefficiencies,” said Bennie Osburn, principal investigator for the grant and dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

“We are confident that with proper standardized training, government inspectors, regulatory officials and food-production employees can perform their work with greater precision and dramatically reduce the annual rate of food-related illness in the United States,” Osburn said.

Osburn retired this year after serving 15 years as dean of the veterinary school and was recalled to serve as dean until Oct. 24, when incoming Dean Michael D. Lairmore assumes that position.