Food Safety

Improving Food Quality and Safety of Our Food Supply

NIFA’S Food Safety Science Emphasis Area supports our nation with a safe food supply. Approximately 48 million Americans contract foodborne illnesses each year from food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or toxins. NIFA helps protect the food supply through research, education, and extension efforts that focus on all levels along the food chain, from production to consumption. NIFA funds a wide variety of food safety issues that include:

  • Delivering food safety education, outreach, and training to a variety of audiences;
  • Employing nanotechnology in production, processing, packaging, and safety of food;
  • Increasing food safety and food quality through improved food manufacturing technologies and improved processing technologies;
  • Improving safety across agricultural production systems, including organic agriculture;
  • Identifying the interactions between food safety, nutrition, and human health;
  • Understanding plant-pathogen interactions;
  • Implementing a systems approach for developing effective mitigation strategies for antimicrobial resistance;
  • Preventing, detecting, and controlling foodborne and waterborne pathogens; and
  • Understanding the ecology of foodborne pathogens, including viruses.
Biologist Mark Jenkins (left) and zoologist Ray Fetterer observe 1-day-old broiler chicks ingesting gelatin beads containing the vaccine for coccidiosis. USDA ARS Photo by Stephen Ausmus.


Development of Sustainable Food Packaging Systems Derived from Renewable Biomass

Tuskegee University, Alabama, researchers are using biomass wastes to create food packaging systems with advanced antimicrobial properties.  The researchers isolated cellulose from stevia and sugarcane and incorporated polymers to develop the active bio-plastic packaging film, proving the potential of cellulose-based composite films for high-end applications.

Protecting Poultry without Antibiotics

Salmonella Enteritidis is the primary poultry-borne pathogen in the United States, and there is no fully effective poultry vaccination available. Researchers at the University of Connecticut are the first to use plant products to treat the infection where it starts, in chickens. They found that plant-derived antimicrobials can control the growth of Salmonella Enteritidis in broilers, on meat from chickens, on eggshells, and in laying hens.

Culture Sample in a lab. USDA Photo by R Anson Eaglin.

US-UK Collaborative Research: Host Resistance to Avian Pathogenic E. Coli

Scientists from Iowa State University and the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh (United Kingdom), are collaborating to reduce the impact of Avian colibacillosis, a disease of poultry caused by E. coli. This project brings together U.S. and U.K. poultry immunology, genomics, and microbiology to develop veterinary and breeding strategies to produce healthier chickens.

On Farm Food Safety for Produce Direct Marketers

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 46 percent of all foodborne illness outbreaks originate with fresh produce. Purdue University, Indiana, adapted and delivered a targeted training program to fruit and vegetable producers and operators who sell directly to consumers and foodbanks. Participants have improved such food safety practices as manure application and management of wash water.

Mapping a New Pathogen Contaminating Seafood

University of New Hampshire scientists have identified a strain of bacterial pathogen that has contaminated seafood and sickened shellfish consumers at increasing rates over the past decade. The researchers have developed a genetic “map” of the main pathogen, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, and two related strains as endemic to the Atlantic Coast of North America. They are now conducting additional research to understand how this pathogen evolved from harmless to pathogenic.

Venders vegetables at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) farmers market at the USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Preston Keres.

Enhancing a Food Safety Culture in Farmers’ Markets

If the growth trend continues, there will be 10,000 farmers’ markets in the United States by 2020. Food science and technology researchers at Virginia Tech have created the Farmers’ Market Food Safety toolkit, a hands-on food safety educational program for consumers and vendors to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.