RTI International will work with the Food and Drug Administration to help improve food safety under terms of a five-year contract worth some $5 million.

RTI researchers are to develop models, methods and databases for use by the FDA in several areas:

• Raking food-related threats to public health

• Identify research priorities

• Select strategies to achieve greatest reductions in health risks linked to fresh produce and shellfish

Particular emphasis will be placed on microbial and chemical hazards.

"Recent disease outbreaks associated with contamination of green onions, lettuce, spinach, and tomatoes underscore the significant challenges facing the FDA," said Steve Beaulieu, the program manager at RTI for the project. "Controlling contamination of these products requires the FDA to rigorously evaluate the food supply system beginning at the farm, continuing through the food production and distribution system, and finally to the table of U.S. consumers.”

Lee-Ann Jaykus, a food researcher at N.C. State University, will take a one-year sabbatical from NCSU to serve as a senior advisor on the program. She has more than 20 years of experience in the study of food-borne viruses, hepatitis A virus and noroviruses – stomach flu or viral gastroenteritis that is spread by contaminated water or through person-to-person contact.