? ? While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, there are still millions of Americans stricken by illness every year caused by the food they consume, and the very young and elderly may die as a result. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important component of the U.S. diet. As produce consumption has increased, scientists at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noticed that the numbers of foodborne illnesses associated with fresh produce have increased and the illnesses are directly related to fresh produce contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. ? ? WERC: A Consortium for Environmental Education and Technology Development, a program of the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, was established in 1990 under a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy. Starting in 1991, WERC has conducted an Annual Environmental Design Contest which is a ? ? unique educational experience for students from throughout the world. The contest ? provides an opportunity for students to address real world environmental and food safety related problems, experience a team-developed project, publish research papers and network with experts and potential employers. The contest is open to any two-year, four-year, or graduate degree institution. A high school-level competition has been held concurrently with the university contest since 1997. Many of the tasks deal with waste disposal, ground water contamination, nuclear waste treatment and similar subjects, however in 2001, a food safety track was added and the contest was broadened to include disciplines such as microbiology and chemical contaminants in foods. ? ? The contest is conducted in four parts: (1) A paper that presents a full-scale process analysis and design; (2) an oral presentation; (3) a bench-scale process demonstration (with samples taken of the product for analysis), and (4) a poster board presentation. All of the contest elements are part of a process used to communicate and to advance ideas and projects towards implementation in today's business environment. ? ? Major engineering and physical science departments at leading U.S. universities and some foreign countries regularly compete in the WERC Design Contest. In the 2004 thirteenth annual contest, 20 universities and 6 high school teams presented and demonstrated technical solutions combined with economics, public policy, regulations and other considerations vital to the environment. ? ? Government and industry sponsors provide tasks for the Annual Design Contest. The tasks are technological problems for which known solutions are not readily available. Each year, WERC tries to bring new sponsors to the program to maintain diversity and to address current environmental problems. ? ? FDA has sponsored WERC through a Cooperative Agreement for the last five years (2001-2005). FDA participated by providing a variety of tasks related to produce safety. In 2004, FDA submitted a task entitled """"""""Reduction of Fecal Bacterial Load in Produce Packing House Wash Water"""""""". There are several areas in the production of fresh fruits and vegetables that can contribute to food safety concerns. Washing fresh produce (also known as surface treatment) can reduce the overall potential for microbial food safety hazards. This is an important step since most microbial contamination is on the surface of fruits and vegetables. If pathogens are not removed, inactivated, or otherwise controlled, they can spread to surrounding produce, potentially contaminating a greater proportion of the produce. A number of post-harvest processes such as hydro-cooling, use of dump tanks (wash tanks), and flume transport involve a high degree of water-to-produce contact. ? ? School teams were asked to develop a fresh produce wash-step that would effectively eliminate fecal coliforms on washed produce; minimize waste generation by treating used wash water; and prevent cross-contamination. Ten schools selected the FDA task. ? ? DESCRIPTION: (Adapted from Investigator's Abstract) ? ? The objective of the program is to address the unique and complex issues associated with food safety and research. The program will result in education and training on issues related to food safety as identified by FDA. The WERC Design Contest will form the cornerstone of the education and the technology demonstration components of the program. This will be accomplished through FDA sponsorship of a task regarding a specific FDA issue of interest. The contest provides an opportunity for collaborative research between academia and industry. ? ? The highly successful annual WERC Design Contest will be used as a mechanism to develop innovative solutions for improving the safety of fresh fruits and vegetables. WERC's grant proposal likely differs from all other proposals that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) receives. Rather than propose a single research effort, WERC's proposal is to use its established educational challenge as the mechanism to generate research efforts at multiple universities. This proposal centers on the attributes of the """"""""mechanism"""""""" to generate solutions to some of the FDA's most pressing needs. ? ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Research Project--Cooperative Agreements (U01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZFD1-CFSN-C (01))
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Ganti, Usha
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New Mexico State University Las Cruces
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Las Cruces
United States
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