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Food, Nutrition, & Health Overview

America is committing increased dollars and resources to remedy the negative effects of poor dietary choices and unhealthy lifestyles, foodborne illnesses, and the potential for terrorist-related and other threats to the food supply. At the same time, millions of Americans struggle to obtain sufficient food, while U.S. food suppliers scramble to keep up with changing food trends. Through program leadership and funding opportunities, NIFA's Food, Nutrition & Health programs strengthen the nation's capacity to address issues related to diet, health, food safety, food security, and food science and technology.

While the American food supply is among the safest in the world, millions of Americans still fall victim to foodborne illness. Each year, foodborne diseases cause an estimated 325,000 serious illnesses resulting in hospitalization, 76 million cases of gastrointestinal illnesses, and 5,000 deaths. The nation faces new food safety challenges because of new and emerging foodborne pathogens and because familiar ones are growing resistant to treatment.

The goal of food safety programs in NIFA is to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness to the greatest extent feasible. NIFA’ food safety programs increase the understanding of disease-causing microorganisms, their products, naturally occurring toxicants and chemical contaminants in meats, poultry, seafood, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Food safety concerns cover a broad spectrum, from on-farm production, postharvest processing, distribution, and food preparation, selection and consumption. Programs increase the understanding of the ecology of foodborne pathogens and their products so better intervention strategies can be developed. NIFA’ food safety programs also encourage public and private sectors to work collaboratively to identify and implement preventive measures that reduce the risk of foodborne illness while making the best use of public and private resources. And finally, the food safety program focuses on addressing the safety of a national food supply that is threatened by both incidental and deliberate contamination.

The value-added sector of the food industry—processing, packaging, marketing, and distribution—accounts for about three-fourths of the consumer’s food dollar. NIFA supports research and education in talue-added food processing and quality improvement through formula grants, competitive grants, and special research grants. These include: thermal processing, irradiation, hydrostatic processing, ohmic processing, reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration, bioproces 02/20/2008drying, and refrigeration. Maintenance and improvement of quality of the nutrients, flavor, texture, and phytochemicals/nutraceuticals are integral parts of these processes. Processing methods to improve the physical, chemical, and microbiological safety of food are an important component of the research supported.