Published: Dec. 7, 2011

MSU lands three USDA grants to improve food safety

Contact(s): Layne Cameron Media Communications office: (517) 353-8819 cell: (765) 748-4827, Jennifer Martin USDA office: (202) 720-8188

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Three Michigan State University researchers landed grants totaling nearly $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve food safety.

The grants were part of USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s visit to MSU’s campus today, in which she announced 17 grants totaling $10.4 million from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to universities around the country.

The three professors are part of the recently created MSU Food Safety Group. This team comprises about 30 MSU researchers from more than 10 departments working with other universities around the world to improve food safety.

“Michigan State has one of the largest and most-respected groups of food safety researchers in the country,” said Ian Gray, vice president for research and graduate studies. “We recognize the global need for an integrated, systems-based approach to solving the problems of foodborne illness and believe that MSU should leverage its outstanding research advantage to take a leadership role in this arena.”

MSU’s grants include:

  • Elliot Ryser, professor of food science and human nutrition, will use a $1.8 million grant to explore ways to reduce contamination by E. coli, salmonella and listeria during the processing, packaging and retail distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables. Ryser will work with colleagues from MSU, the International Food Protection Training Institute (Battle Creek), California Polytechnic State University, Rutgers University and Ohio State University to improve the microbial safety of cantaloupe, tomatoes and many other ready-to-eat, fresh-cut produce.
  • Les Bourquin, professor of food science and human nutrition, was awarded $543,000 to develop food safety education and training programs for the food industry. With many outbreaks caused by food-handling errors by employees, this project will introduce standardized, competency-based processes modeled after internationally accepted criteria to reduce human error. Bourquin will work with colleagues from MSU, Ohio State University and the University of Maryland-Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
  • Brad Marks, professor of biosystems engineering, received nearly $543,000 to improve pasteurization methods for low-moisture food products. Salmonella is known to be extremely resistant to lethal treatments on foods such as almonds, wheat flour and peanut butter. Working with colleagues from Washington State University, Marks’ goal is to give the food industry sound scientific data, knowledge and tools to ensure the effectiveness of preventing outbreaks.

“With millions of Americans contracting foodborne illnesses each year, USDA is committed to supporting research that improves the safety of our nation’s food supply,” said Merrigan. “Primarily, we expect that the research and education spurred by these grants will find solutions to some pressing food safety issues. Additionally, we want to help American consumers, restaurant employees and teachers put new food safety principles into practice. Ensuring the safety of food is a top priority for USDA, and we will continue to work with our public and private sector partners on developing solutions to decrease potential risks.”

The research of Ryser, Marks and Bourquin is partially funded by MSU AgBioResearch. More information on NIFA can be found at

Michigan State University has been working to advance the common good in uncommon ways for more than 150 years. One of the top research universities in the world, MSU focuses its vast resources on creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, while providing life-changing opportunities to a diverse and inclusive academic community through more than 200 programs of study in 17 degree-granting colleges.

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