Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns announced today that USDA is furthering its research on the safety of fresh produce. Nearly $5.5 million will support collaborative research to identify risk factors and preventive measures for E. coli O157:H7 contamination in fresh produce.

"This research will help producers identify the sources of E. coli O157:H7 and ways to avoid contamination," Johanns said. "Developing new research and prevention tactics for the grower will contribute to assuring produce safety for consumers."

USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSRES) are providing the funding to ARS researcher Rob Mandrell and his collaborators at the University of California to continue their research in the Central Valley of California. Over the next three years ARS will contribute $5 million and CSREES will contribute $470,999. In 2006, CSREES awarded Mandrell and colleague Robert Atwill at University of California-Davis $1.2 million to do research in the Salinas Valley.

Mandrell will address where E. coli O157:H7 originates, how it survives on the plant, and what factors lead to an increase in produce-related outbreaks. Potential risk factors include animals, land practices, packing and processing processes and wildlife.

Additionally, the project will feature workshops and publications to educate the animal operators, natural resource managers and the public about animal diseases that can be transferred to humans, how animal waste can contaminate water sources, and beneficial management practices for maintaining and improving water runoff quality.

Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 illness associated with fresh lettuce or spinach have been associated with pre-harvest contamination.

CSREES' portion of the grant was funded through the National Research Initiative (NRI). The NRI is the largest peer reviewed, competitive grants program in CSREES. Its purpose is to support research, extension, and education grants that address key problems of national, regional, and multi-state importance in sustaining all components of agriculture.

CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education, and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit http://www.csrees.usda.gov. ARS is the USDA's chief in-house scientific research agency.