A competition has been launched by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help find new methods of detecting disease-causing organisms in food.

In particular, the agency wants to make it easier to detect Salmonella in fresh produce but it said that the ability of a solution to address testing for other microbial pathogens and in other foods is encouraged.

Ideally, concepts should reduce the time needed for sample preparation in the testing process and/or employ novel or revolutionary techniques to achieve pathogen detection, such as metagenomics, spectroscopy, application of nanotubes/nanotechnology, quantum detection methods and electrical detection methods.

A total prize pool of $500,000 has been made available.

The FDA noted that the U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world, but still an estimated one in six people suffer from foodborne illness each year, resulting in about 3,000 deaths. Across the country, Salmonella is the leading cause of deaths and of hospitalizations related to foodborne illness. The bacteria cause an estimated 380 deaths and 19,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

To participate in the FDA Food Safety Challenge, concepts need to be submitted to the FDA by November 9, 2014. Up to five submissions will be selected as finalists. Each of these teams will be awarded $20,000 and will have the opportunity to be coached by FDA subject matter experts, who will help them develop and advance their ideas before they present their refined concepts to the judges.

Federal agencies are authorized under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to conduct prize competitions in an effort to spur innovation, solve difficult problems and advance their core missions. This is the FDA's first such incentive prize competition.