Researchers at the University of Maine have been granted $150,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The funds are to be put toward studying foodborne pathogens––specifically the use of magnetic resonance imaging to see how pathogens form in produce. Researchers will be studying internalization of foodborne pathogens––the process by which harmful bacteria move into the edible parts of fresh produce. According to the university, this will be the first research of its kind.

“Either microorganisms will contaminate a surface of produce — leaves, plants, fruit — but there is another possibility microorganisms can actually internalize, get inside of the plant cell tissues. That will make the control of microorganisms and contamination even more difficult. Once microorganisms internalize inside of a plant tissue, it’s very difficult to get rid of them,” says Vivian Wu, a professor of food science and lead researcher on the project at the University of Maine.

The research team’s goal is not only to better understand the process, but to come up with ways to prevent pathogen internalization in fresh produce. In addition, the university also hopes to attract more students from afar by implementing similar research programs.