Fresh Express to Provide $2 Million to Fund Study of E. coli 0157:H7 Pathogen in Produce

SALINAS, Calif. -- Fresh Express, a leading producer of value-added salads in North America, today announced that it will provide up to $2 million to fund rigorous and multidisciplinary research to help the fresh-cut produce industry prevent contamination by the deadly Escherichia coli 0157:H7 pathogen, which has caused numerous outbreaks over the past decade, including the recent occurrence related to fresh spinach. Although no Fresh Express product has ever been shown to have caused an outbreak of foodborne illness, the company is funding and will share this research publicly -- in recognition of the benefits it may achieve for both the industry and consumers alike.

An independent scientific advisory panel comprised of six nationally recognized food safety experts from both federal and state food safety-related agencies and academia has been meeting on a nonpaid, voluntary basis since May 2006 to develop the most productive research priorities related to the source, mode of action and life cycle of E. coli 0157:H7 and the pathogenic contamination of lettuce and leafy greens. The panel is chaired by Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota. In addition, the panel consists of Dr. Jeff Farrar, California Department of Health Services; Dr. Bob Buchanan, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Dr. Robert Tauxe, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Dr. Bob Gravani, CornellUniversity; and Dr. Craig Hedberg, University of Minnesota.

"Food safety has been and will always be our No. 1 priority in every phase of our operations," said Tanios Viviani, president of Fresh Express. "We have long been dedicated to food-safety innovation, and this research effort is part of that ongoing commitment. We are grateful to these leading experts for their generous contribution of time and expertise to guide this initiative." Viviani continued, "We are hopeful that this research will yield new knowledge, practices and technologies that the entire fresh-cut produce industry can use to provide consumers with ready-to-eat produce that is consistently safe and healthy."

According to Osterholm, the group evaluated the existing body of knowledge relating to E. coli 0157:H7 contamination in fresh produce and collaborated on the most critical research gaps in fresh produce contamination ranging from growing and harvesting to cooling, transporting, processing and packaging. "We systematically used our individual areas of expertise to scrutinize the entire supply chain and ultimately uncover the areas where we collectively agreed more research was necessary," said Osterholm. "From this process, the five critical research priorities began to emerge fairly consistently." The identified research priorities -- and those against which research proposals are being sought -- include:

* Determine the potential for Escherichia coli O157:H7 to be internalized into lettuce or spinach.

* Identify new mitigation strategies and technologies to reduce the potential for E. coli O157:H7 to contaminate leafy green produce.

* Conduct field studies to identify sources, vehicles and factors that affect the degree of contamination or extent of contamination of leafy green produce by E. coli O157:H7.

* Determine the ability of E. coli O157:H7 to multiply in the presence of normal background flora following the harvest of produce such as lettuce or spinach.

* Determine the ability of E. coli O157:H7 to survive composting processes.

Funding is available immediately, and all proposals will be reviewed against guidelines established independently by this scientific advisory panel. To ensure the highest degree of integrity and value to each phase of the research initiative, the panel is empowered, without restriction by Fresh Express, to review proposals, make funding decisions and monitor and disseminate research results.

Source: Chiquita Brands International, Inc.

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