USDA has awarded $1.2 million to a collaborative research effort to identify sources and risk factors of E. coli O157:H7 contamination in fresh produce, according to a USDA press release.

The funds will also be used to inform growers about strategies to prevent pre-harvest contamination, according to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

There have been 16 outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 illness associated with fresh lettuce or spinach since 1995. Several of these were associated with preharvest contamination.

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service and the University of California College of Veterinary Medicine will collaborate with the California Department of Health Services Food and Drug Laboratory to conduct the research.

The grant was funded through USDA’s Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service’s National Research Initiative.