CARBONDALE — Grants from the Illinois Department of Agriculture will help Southern Illinois University Carbondale researchers work to extend the shelf lives of certain crops and reduce foodborne illness outbreaks, according to one of the grant recipients.
The 10 recipients of 2017 the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funds were announced Oct. 30. Three of the projects are based at SIUC.
The funds, which are part of the 2014 Farm Bill, are awarded to projects that seek to expand the availability of fresh, locally grown produce.
Ruplal Choudhary, associate professor of plant, soil and agricultural systems, will use a $63,851 grant to examine washing and handling techniques for salad greens, cherry tomatoes and melons — crops that are particularly sensitive to microbial contamination.
“Food safety has always been an issue in the produce industry, and there have been so many recalls and difficulties from contamination of produce,” Choudhary said.
Choudhary’s goal is to develop recommendations for washing techniques that are compliant with the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2011, and also make use of organically approved sanitizers.
“People want food which is free from chemicals, synthetic chemicals. So we’d like to test with something that is permitted for the organic foods, and that’s how we are trying to meet both the Food Safety Modernization Act as well as U.S. organic demands,” Choudhary said.
Choudhary was also the recipient of an $88,000 grant, which he will use to further research on pre- and postharvest treatments to strawberries. In previous projects, he worked to improve the yield, quality and shelf life of organically produced strawberries using ocean minerals and limonene, the extract of citrus fruit peels.
“With the new grant, what we would like to do is see what is the effect of those treatments on the biomolecular level inside a strawberry … so can we detect at a molecular level what kind of proteins are being expressed, how the biochemical reaction inside the strawberry is changing because of these different treatments we are doing on strawberries,” Choudhary said.
Both projects will get started in the spring semester.
“Anything we can do on these crops to extend their life and provide health benefits to the consumers in Southern Illinois, that is our goal. We want them to be free from undesirable chemicals,” Choudhary said.
A $28,222 grant was also awarded to Wayne Glass at SIU for an analysis of research on managing hops production in Illinois. The analysis will include “on-farm start-up and growing practices, food safety and supply chain management, production costs, and sustainability options,” according to a Department of Agriculture press release.