May 14, 2009

Study focuses on compost-grown food risks

A U.S. researcher has been awarded a $222,000 grant to reduce bacteria being spread from farms and gardens through the use of manure as a fertilizer.

Clemson University food safety researcher, Associate Professor Xiuping Jiang, said a teaspoon of fertile soil can have as many as 1 billion bacteria -- some that can cause extreme sickness and even death. But Jiang's research shows that by raising temperatures and using other approaches, bacterial counts in compost are reduced.

The funding -- provided by The Center for Produce Safety at the University of California-Davis -- will support the microbial safety research goals of Jiang and her colleagues Jinkyung Kim and Feng Luo. Those goals include discovering how human pathogens react to heat in compost and developing a sensitive pathogen detection method,

Jiang's research team is also studying biological controls, such as other bacteria in the compost that can grow more rapidly and out-compete harmful pathogens for nutrients.

The funding is part of a new $1 million research effort by the Center for Produce Safety to enhance the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables.