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Texas A&M receives $2.4 million grant to improve specialty crop safety and water efficiency

Improving the safety and water efficiency of specialty fruit and vegetable crops with smart surfaces will be the goal of a new transdisciplinary project led by Texas A&M University. A $2.4 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the  U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding the project. 

Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Ph.D., and Mustafa Akbulut, Ph.D., will be project co-leaders on the development of smart surfaces and coatings for the fruit and vegetable industry. The four-year project, titled 'Next-Generation Smart Surfaces and Coatings to Improve Food Safety and Water Efficiency of U.S. Specialty Crops', will involve Texas A&M’s Department of Horticultural Sciences and Artie McFerrin Department of Chemical Engineering. The project will focus on the development and design of smart, novel surfaces and coatings for production agriculture.

Luis Cisneros-Zevallos, Ph.D., a professor in the horticulture department of Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Bryan-College Station, will serve as lead investigator for the project. Mustafa Akbulut, Ph.D., an associate professor in the chemical engineering department of Texas A&M University Engineering, will serve as project co-leader.  

Why is the project needed?
Foodborne illnesses represent a significant health burden. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey data, about 10 million Americans per year suffer from domestically acquired foodborne illnesses, and illness caused by contaminated specialty crops is estimated to cost the domestic economy approximately $18 billion.  

“Considering the enormity of the burden of foodborne illnesses, even a 1% improvement in overall microbiological safety of specialty crops through the utilization of this technology can translate into a significant reduction in outbreaks and hospitalization as well as economic savings,” Cisneros-Zevallos said.  

The researchers are tackling food safety issues by developing novel spraying or dipping solutions and coatings to improve the microbiological safety and hygiene of farming tools and accessories used in harvesting. They will also investigate the use of this technology in conjunction with contact surfaces used for storing, sorting, and processing specialty crops.

“This project will lead to the creation of a safer and more affordable food supply and enhance quality of life by reducing the risk of foodborne illness associated with specialty crop food and food products,” Cisneros-Zevallos said.

For more information:
Paul Schattenberg
Texas A&M University
Cell: +1 210-859-5752
Email: [email protected]

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