The Food Safety Consortium Newsletter
Vol. 8, Number 2
- Industry Still Needs Access to Irradiation Facilities
- Consumers Will Endorse Irradiation, Researchers Predict
- ISU Explores Irradiation's Effect on Pork Patties
- Irradiation Class Offered at ISU
- FDA Action Brings Irradiation Closer to Usage
- Report From the Coordinator
- KSU Sets Rapid Methods Workshop
- FSC Researchers Find Problems With Sponge Sampling
- Assessing Risk: Using Input to Get Output
- Beaming Onto Bacteria Tells What's There
- USDA Announces Anti-Salmonella Product
- Alliance Forms to 'Fight BAC'
- Arkansas Food Safety Curriculum Launched
- Papers and Presentations
- Food Safety Digest
Industry Still Needs Access to Irradiation Facilities
The Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of irradiation on red meat, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering the rules under which the process can be implemented. That does not mean, however, that irradiated products are already on a fast track to the grocery display case.
Dennis Olson checks irradiation equipment at linear accelerator facility at Iowa State University
Even with the regulations in place, there will still be the matter of the meat industry's access to irradiation facilities. A facility in Florida is currently the only one in the nation dedicated solely to irradiating food products. There are about 40 other irradiation facilities around the country, but they are in use for different purposes such as medical sterilization. Few of them have excess capacity or are equipped to handle perishable refrigerated products.
Dennis Olson, an investigator with the Food Safety Consortium's research team at Iowa State University, administers a meat science laboratory that has an electron-beam linear accelerator, the only research and demonstration facility for food irradiation at a U.S. educational institution. Olson said it is still uncertain what approach industry will choose in taking advantage of irradiation.
"I think a few are doing some preliminary schematic designs of how they might build a facility or how they might attach to a plant or have it close by their plant," Olson said. "That might lead to some architectural plans."
It still is not certain whether the large companies might try to build their own facilities and staff them, or whether they would contract the staffing to outside firms. Companies that have been irradiating medical products may choose to expand into food and could contract with meat companies to accommodate them, Olson said.
"There are a few facilities that do things like spices and cosmetics that could be used for food," Olson said. "Anything that's going to have any substantial use of irradiation for food is going to have to be a new facility."
If a large restaurant chain were to announce that it wanted to be supplied with an irradiated product, then companies would begin building them quickly to meet the demand, Olson noted. But no such demand has been expressed yet.
Olson predicted there may be a lag of at least two years before irradiated meat is sold in the stores because of the time it will take to build the irradiation facilities. The construction won't start until after the USDA's final rules are known.
"There are a lot of questions as to what product they're going to try to irradiate and how they're going to market that," he said. "Where would they do test marketing? I think there would be a substantial amount of test marketing before commitments to those facilities appear."
A related problem concerns packaging materials for irradiated food. The FDA has approved very few packaging materials for these foods. The industry's modern multilayered laminants and new packaging materials will need to be approved for such use. If companies commit to building irradiation facilities, they will need to have approved packaging materials available.
"There will probably be a couple of years of research necessary to get these packaging materials approved by FDA," Olson said. The research effort will be headed by the National Center for Food Safety and Technology in Illinois and will involve resin manufacturers, film converters and the meat industry.
"It will be a large project," Olson said. "You have to test each individual resin, additive and adhesive to make sure that under irradiation it doesn't have any materials migrating to a food product."
Consumers Will Endorse Irradiation, Researchers Predict
Will consumers accept irradiated foodstuffs? Are they willing to pay a little more at the grocery check-out counter for such products?
Yes, say two Kansas State University researchers who serve as principal investigators for the Food Safety Consortium.
"We have studied consumers' willingness to pay for irradiated food products and just how much more they are willing to pay," said John A. Fox, KSU assistant professor of economics. "We tested consumer attitudes on irradiated foods with a survey, a purchasing experiment and a retail grocery trial."
Fox and his colleagues initially sent 400 randomly selected consumers a mail survey along with a U.S.Department of Agriculture pamphlet explaining food irradiation. The respondents were asked to read the pamphlet before completing the survey.
"We asked people whether they would choose regular or irradiated boneless, skinless chicken breasts at different retail prices," Fox said. "More than 80 percent voiced a preference for irradiated meat priced the same as a non-irradiated product.
"Thirty-one percent said they still would prefer irradiated meat at a 10 percent price premium. About 15 percent said they would prefer to purchase irradiated meat even if it were priced 20 percent higher than non-irradiated meat."
In the purchasing experiment, a randomly selected panel of consumers were asked to read the USDA pamphlet and then actually purchase either irradiated or non-irradiated chicken. The irradiated product was priced the same, 10 percent higher and 20 percent higher than the non irradiated product.
"The results again were positive," Fox said. "Our purchasing experiment put consumers in a situation where they had to actually part with real money after comparing two real products. And when the products were priced the same, more than 75 percent of our consumer panel purchased the irradiated chicken. "The next step was correlating the survey and experiment results with a supermarket trial."
In the supermarket trial, the researchers placed clearly labeled irradiated chicken on the shelf in two Manhattan, Kan., grocery stores for four weekends. The chicken was priced differently each weekend, using the prices cited in the mail survey.
"We were comparing the proportion of people buying irradiated chicken with the percentage buying the non-irradiated store brand," Fox said. "When the products were priced the same, irradiated chicken accounted for 43 percent of total sales. When discounted, it accounted for 62 percent of total sales. When the irradiated chicken was priced 10 percent higher, it accounted for 30 percent of sales. And when the product was 20 percent higher, it accounted for 15 percent of total sales."
The product's 40 percent market share at an equal price is very good performance for a new food product, Fox noted.
In another study, Fox studied the impact of product information on consumer choices. He found that "negative" information -- no matter how incorrect or unproven -- is a dominant influence on consumer purchases.
"That result is a major hurdle for meat processors who might want to use irradiation to produce a safer product," he said. "It shows how easy it is to turn consumers away from a product such as irradiated meats -- even though irradiation has been proven scientifically safe.
"The Food and Drug Administration's Dec. 2 approval of irradiation for fresh and frozen beef, pork and lamb is a good move. But it will have little effect on the safety of our food supply until processors embrace and adopt irradiation technology."
Some retail grocers already have stocked irradiated foods and found that well-informed consumers actually prefer these products, said Don Kropf, a KSU professor of meat science who has studied meats irradiation for four years.
"Jim Corrigan -- a Northbrook, Ill., grocer who owns and operates The Carrot Top store -- has found a real niche market for irradiated foods," Kropf said. "But the key to that consumer acceptance is education -- providing accurate consumer information before the product is put on the shelf."
The Carrot Top first offered consumers irradiated tropical fruits. Then it branched into irradiated strawberries, which also were well-received. Then came irradiated chicken.
"At that point, the grocer encountered a hurdle," Kropf said. "Someone asked him, `Why are you selling zapped chicken?'
"His answer was positive sales. In fact, the store now calls its irradiated poultry `Zapped Chicken.' Consumers like it and buy it."
Kropf said The Carrot Top's experience with irradiated foods probably is a good model for consumer acceptance of irradiated meats nationwide.
"Irradiation is not a cure-all for processors or consumers. It is just another tool we can use to improve the safety of our food supply. But once consumers realize its benefits -- such as a longer shelf life and a cleaner product -- I think they will embrace it," Kropf said.
(Article courtesy of Kansas State University Research and Extension Department of Communications.)
ISU Explores Irradiation's Effect on Pork Patties
While the meat industry explores the extent to which it may want to use irradiation of its products as a food safety measure, scientists continue to study the procedure and look for ways to eliminate any problems associated with it.
One such question is whether irradiation has an effect on the aroma of raw pork patties and, if so, what might be done to address the situation. The odor, said Dennis Olson of the Food Safety Consortium's research team at Iowa State University, "is barely noticeable and it's not necessarily offensive. It's just unusual and many people can't even detect it."
Irradiation has been shown in scientific research to be a safe way of eliminating pathogenic bacteria at the end of a processing line. Although it was approved in December by the Food and Drug Administration, the process has not yet been adopted in the meat industry pending further regulatory review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and investment by industries in irradiation facilities. Industry is also mindful of alleviating potential consumer concerns before irradiation becomes a widespread practice.
That situation brings about research on aspects of irradiation such as the aroma from the pork patties. The Iowa State research team is seeking to find out more about the effects of irradiation on flavor, aroma and color changes of raw pork patties during storage. Olson, the director of Iowa State's Utilization Center for Agricultural Products, said the Consortium is also examining whether packaging materials might be responsible for any off-odor.
Irradiation's benefits are not negated by the aroma, Olson said. "After we cook the product we know we can't tell the difference. It's only when you open that package and you can smell those volatiles."
Those volatiles are the molecules that create an aroma. "It's fairly clear that these volatiles exist in irradiated products but not in unirradiated products," Olson said. "So we think they might be responsible for what we can detect to be an odor when we irradiate a vacuum-packaged product. We're trying to determine what these compounds are and where they come from -- whether they come from the meat or the packaging material."
Tests run at Iowa State have indicated that if patties are vacuum-packaged before irradiation and during storage, they can be stored for two weeks without problems related to bacteria. But meat stored long enough in frozen conditions in which there is no bacterial growth can develop a rancid odor. That odor is developed by a chemical process called lipid oxidation. Irradiation generates a group of atoms called free radicals that can accelerate lipid oxidation, which can cause an off odor over time.
The research has shown that irradiation does not have an adverse effect on patties' acceptability during storage if it is vacuum packaged. Olson said that is because the presence of free radicals guarantees that some changes in the patties' composition. But the removal of oxygen in vacuum packaging makes the difference.
"If you remove oxygen, which is needed in rancidity formations, you do that by vacuum packaging," Olson said. "And then irradiation won't affect it. Vacuum packaging is critical with an irradiated product."
The removal of the oxygen does cause some color change, but not to the point of adversely affecting the meat. The presence of oxygen leads to the conversion to ozone, which causes a reduction in the redness of irradiated patties during storage.
Irradiation Class Offered at ISU
Iowa State University will offer two sessions of a short course in meat and poultry irradiation. The course will be offered May 12-13 and Sept. 1-2 at the ISU campus in Ames. The course is designed for persons with supervisory, production or technical responsibilities in commercial meat processing operations and will also provide valuable information for those in marketing, supplier industries and academics.
Pariticpants will have the opportunity to sample irradiated products and tour the ISU electron-beam linear accelerator facility. Commerical meat companies will have the opportunity to irradiate one of their products at the facility.
The registration fee for the short course is $495. To obtain a registration form contact Carole Seifert at 1-800-262-0015. For more information about the course content contact Sharon at 515-294-1187.
FDA Action Brings Irradiation Closer to Usage
The Food and Drug Administration's Dec. 2 approval of irradiation for controlling disease causing microorganisms in fresh and frozen beef, pork and lamb is a long-needed step toward a safer food supply for American consumers, according to a Kansas State University Food Safety Consortium researcher.
"Irradiation is a safe, effective way to destroy harmful bacteria without changing the flavor, texture, aroma or nutritional quality of foodstuffs," said Donald Kropf, a KSU professor of meat science who has studied irradiation of meats for the past four years.
"Irradiation kills foodborne pathogens by destroying the bacteria's DNA -- the genetic mechanism of life. We irradiate food by passing it through a low-level energy field that isn't strong enough to cause radioactivity. The food never touches a radioactive substance."
The FDA permits three types of ionizing radiation for food irradiation -- gamma rays, high-energy electrons and x-rays. Gamma rays are a by-product of the radioactive decay of either Cobalt-60 or Cesium-137, while high-energy electron radiation and x-ray radiation are produced by electricity.
"The energy passes through food much like a ray of light passes through a window," Kropf said.
The first patent on irradiation for food preservation was issued in 1905, but serious research on food irradiation didn't take place until the late 1950s, the scientist noted.
"In the years since, irradiation has been proven safe and has been approved in 37 countries. FDA first approved irradiation for treating pathogens in spices and vegetable seasonings in 1982," Kropf said.Three years later, FDA approved irradiation for controlling the trichina (trichinosis) parasite in pork, and in 1990, FDA approved irradiation to control pathogens on poultry.
"Irradiation also is used to control insects and pathogens on fruits, vegetables and grains. It really isn't a new process." Kropf and other KSU scientists began their meat irradiation research four years ago.
In 1994, Kropf and his colleagues sent raw ground beef, raw steak and pre-cooked ground beef to Iowa State University's Linear Accelerator Facility, where the samples were irradiated using high-energy electrons. The samples then went to KSU's sensory analysis center.
"We found that irradiation has little effect on the taste and aroma of ground beef and steak," Kropf said. "In fact, the taste-testers in the steak test asked to take the leftovers home with them."
A second study compared the quality of pork chops irradiated with high-energy electrons at Iowa State University to pork chops irradiated with gamma rays at a commercial laboratory in Florida.
"We found no difference in quality from either method," Kropf said. "In both of these studies, we also looked at how irradiation affects meat quality after packaging. In both cases, vacuum packing of the irradiated meat proved superior to traditional, oxygen-rich aerobic packaging."
In a third study designed to test consumer acceptance, Kropf and his colleagues found no difference in the freshness, tenderness, juiciness or overall acceptance of cobalt-irradiated pork and non-irradiated pork.
"Low-level irradiation is a safe, effective way to destroy disease-causing pathogens on meat. It is endorsed by the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, the Institute of Food Technologists and the World Health Organization," Kropf said. "And when irradiated meat is vacuum-packed, it has a longer shelf life so long as consumers properly refrigerate it and practice good sanitation when preparing it for the table."
But even though FDA has approved meat irradiation, some questions remain, he said: Will consumers accept the product? Will meat processors use the technology once the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture issue regulations governing irradiation and the labeling of irradiated meat?
"Meat processors could build irradiation facilities next to their processing-distribution centers at a cost of about 1 to 2 cents per pound of meat handled. But if processors contract for this service, their cost could rise to as much as 5 to 7 cents per pound," Kropf said. "For consumers, that could mean paying 3 to 6 cents more per pound more for labeled, irradiated red meat with a longer shelf life. I'd say we still are one or two years away from seeing irradiated meat in grocery store coolers."
(Article courtesy of Kansas State University Research and Extension Department of Communications.)
Report From the Coordinator
By Charles J. Scifres
A few months ago the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of irradiation in red meats. The FDA's action was based on evidence that had mounted over the years, and a considerable amount
of that input was based on the scientific studies on irradiation performed by researchers in the Food Safety Consortium.
Several articles in this newsletter cover aspects of the Consortium's irradiation research in the wake of the FDA decision. Dennis Olson, a Consortium principal investigator at Iowa State University, demonstrates the ongoing nature of this research. In one of our articles he discusses the broad picture of what the future holds for industry as a result of this government action and what additional research will be necessary to implement portions of it. In another article he explains how a current Consortium research project on raw pork patties seeks to determine what effect irradiation has on the product's aroma.
Our other articles on irradiation explore an analysis of consumer reaction to the technology and a summary of recent research findings by Kansas State University scientists.
Olson, whose research in the field is recognized internationally, addressed the current state of knowledge of irradiation in the Institute of Food Technologists Scientific Status Summary in January. "Federal regulators, food scientists, food processors and consumers will write the next chapter in the story of irradiation," Olson wrote. "New challenges awaiting resolution include safely and successfully implementing irradiation in the meat and poultry processing industries; maintaining the quality of raw, irradiated meats; developing packaging suitable for irradiation; developing methods to detect irradiated foods; and educating the public about the wholesomeness of foods made safer by irradiation."
That's a major work order. It tells us that although this technology is now in a position to be used by industry, much more research is necessary to maintain and build upon a viable practice that makes part of the food supply safer.
Although the topic is irradiation, Olson's statement can be applied to any number of food safety research subjects on the Consortium's agenda. Even as a line of research appears to be generating relevant results, the findings often lead to new questions and new issues demanding further exploration. Food safety presents constant new challenges, advances lead to new fronts to cover, and that's why the work is never really done.
KSU Sets Rapid Methods Workshop
The 18th annual Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology Workshop will be held July 10-17 at Kansas State University in Manhattan. The workshop is directed by Daniel Fung, a food science professor at Kansas State and a principal investigator with the Food Safety Consortium. The workshop focuses on the practical application of new and commercial systems of rapid identification of microorganisms from medical specimens, foods, water and the environment. The workshop and a special two-day mini-symposium are designed for microbiologists, food scientists, medical technologists, consultants, quality assurance and control managers, laboratory directors and researchers.
Detailed information about the workshop and a registration form can be found on the World Wide Web at http://www.dce.ksu.edu/dce/conf/microbiology. Information is also available by calling the program coordinator at 1-800-432-8222 (or 785-532-5575 from outside the U.S.).
FSC Researchers Find Problems With Sponge Sampling
Sponge sampling, a method of testing beef carcasses for E. coli bacterial contamination, has flaws as permitted under current federal regulations, Food Safety Consortium researchers at Kansas State University have found. The researchers have made recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service seeking to make better use of the procedure.
Lab workers at Kansas State University examine beef carcasses for sponge samples.
Since 1996, meat processors have been required by the federal government to verify slaughter process hygiene by testing carcasses for generic E. coli results. Under the USDA's pathogen reduction rule that mandates the use of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems, FSIS details how processors may use sterile, cellulose sampling sponges to swab 300 square centimeters of chilled carcass surface. The sponges, hydrated with Butterfield's phosphate buffer, are then returned to their bags and transported to an analytical laboratory for enumeration of the E. coli. Sponge samples can be plated immediately or with 24 hours if they are shipped to a commercial laboratory.
In recent technical amendments to the final rule, FSIS allows companies to use excision sampling -- cutting chunks of meat from three sampling sites on a carcass -- in lieu of sponge sampling. FSIS also allows the use of buffered peptone water in lieu of Butterfield's phosphate buffer for hydrating sampling sponges. If excision sampling is utilized, companies must follow
methods used by FSIS in its National Microbiological Baseline study and evaluate the data using USDA's published three-class attribute acceptance criteria (m and M values). A statistical process control program must be used to track process control for companies choosing sponge sampling, since sponge and excision data have been shown to accurately correlate.
When the new USDA rules establishing HACCP were implemented, Food Safety Consortium researchers at Kansas State University were assisting companies in verifying processing control and in evaluating antimicrobial intervention technologies. Side-by-side comparisons of sponge sampling and excision sampling of beef carcasses was initiated to provide better interpretation of data from tissue excision that was generated during the development of other technologies.
"We quickly realized that, even though the theoretical detection sensitivity for the sponge was much better than with the excision (no fewer than 0.04 units of E. coli-forming colonies per square centimeter detected by the sponge method as opposed to no fewer than 5 units detected by the excision method), the actual detection ability was very poor," said Dr. Randy Phebus, a Consortium investigator at KSU who led these comparative studies.
"Virtually all carcasses tested were shown to be free of E. coli by the sponge, although they often contained significant levels at areas immediately adjacent by excision," Phebus said.
These findings, with additional queries by industry regarding the potential need to store sponge samples for periods longer than 24 hours (such as over holidays when labs might be closed), prompted extensive KSU studies to better characterize and quantify the E. coli detection problem and offer suggestions to optimize the sponge sampling method.
According to Phebus, the lack of E. coli recovery using the sponge method can be attributed to two factors. First, the percentage of E. coli cells attached to the chilled carcass that is removed during the carcass swabbing is very low (only 10 to 20 percent). Secondly, of the few cells recovered by the sponge, at least 50 percent quickly die in stored sponge bags hydrated with Butterfield's phosphate buffer.
"These results were terribly troubling," explained Phebus. "Here we are gauging the effectiveness of our new 'scientifically based' meat production system on a carcass-testing methodology that is substantially flawed. Everybody loses. The FSIS can't evaluate companies' process controls. Companies are paying for meaningless testing generating data of little value. Consumers probably are not purchasing a safer product."
The KSU researchers have completed numerous studies to optimize the sponge sampling method to make it more useful to companies and are midway through several more. "Basically, we have shown that buffered peptone water is far superior to Butterfield's phosphate buffer or several other buffers for maintaining viability of E. coli in sponge sampling bags," Phebus said. ""The method must be standardized at this point to require everyone to use this diluent in sampling. We still have to address the issue of lack of detachment of bacteria from the carcass surface. Currently, we're evaluating different sponge materials and the efficacy of surfactant additives to the sponges to see if more cells can be recovered from the chilled tissue surfaces."
Another issue concerns Phebus and his colleagues. "I feel that some companies currently basing their process control on E. coli sponge results, particularly those using Butterfield's phosphate buffer, may get a rude awakening when USDA begins their Salmonella regulatory testing," he said.
"Our studies show that Salmonella survives well during storage of sponge bags. The USDA also uses buffered peptone water in their method," Phebus continued. "Since this test is qualitative (yes or no answer), the recovery and survival of a single Salmonella cell will likely lead to a positive test through enrichment detection. The net result might be companies falsely believing their slaughter practices are in control and then USDA reveals non-compliance for Salmonella incidence." Although this is only speculation, Phebus noted, the scenario merits scientific consideration.
Phebus and his KSU colleague, Consortium investigator Dr. Jim Marsden, have recommended the following to FSIS officials:
1) Optimize the sponge sampling method so that recovered counts are as accurate as possible;
2) Standardize the method so that companies can compare the effectiveness of their processes to their peers' and so FSIS can effectively gauge industry progress over time; and
3) Report E. coli counts on a basis of 300 square centimeters so companies can use whole numbers in statistical process control programs.
"The Mega-Reg (USDA's HACCP rules) was written to be a living document, to be improved upon as we make scientific advances in meat and poultry processing," Phebus said. "We must continue to do research to address legitimate issues, and we must utilize the results of our science to continually improve the system. Carcass sampling is the first major issue under the Mega-Reg to be scientifically addressed. I genuinely believe that the USDA and industry will utilize our comparative data, and other valid studies as they become available, to improve the production and inspection system that we have now put into place."
Assessing Risk: Using Input to Get Output
Few endeavors are free of risk. The key to dealing with risk factors in industry is determining how much risk a business faces in making its product and figuring out how to minimize and manage the risk levels.
Poultry processors use risk assessment tools to evaluate and maintain the safety of their product. Before performing various operations in processing, they want to know what likelihood there is of bacterial contamination so they can apply solutions to reduce and eliminate the pathogens.
Yanbin Li spends time these days developing a system that predicts the possibilities of microbial hazards in poultry processing. Li, a poultry science professor at the University of Arkansas, is working with his associate, Lance Ma, and is collaborating with food science professor Michael Johnson on the project for the Food Safety Consortium. They are starting by collecting data.
"If you have enough data, you can get good risk assessment," Li said. "The first task for our team is to collect the data on microbial contamination and the physical and chemical properties of poultry products. Those properties have some effects on the survival of microbes and their destructive behavior during processing, refrigeration and storage."
Li's team is compiling data to apply to predictive microbial models, which will simulate the growth, survival and destruction of pathogenic microbes in the processing steps in a poultry plant -- scalding, defeathering, eviscerating, chilling and antimicrobial treatments. This data can then be used to predict the risk of microbial contamination on a larger scale in an actual poultry processing plant.
"When we develop a microbial risk assessment model, what we need the most is input. Then you can get output," Li said. The input and output are gathered to enable processors to determine the probability of microbial hazards related to their products. There is not yet a good way to determine the initial load of microbes that a bird is carrying before entering a processing plant.
"Say you have 100 birds," Li explained. "How many birds have Salmonella contamination on their surface? How many Salmonella cells are on each of those contaminated birds? This is a research topic."
Plant managers want to know how bacteria survive during processing procedures. Li's team is trying to find out through a series of tests.
"We simulate the processing procedures in our lab on a small scale," Li said. "We just use a piece of chicken meat with the skin to represent the whole chicken carcass. Then we use real processing water for chilling, scalding or spraying."
During the simulation, Li and the researchers may find Salmonella on the chicken and will then try to determine how the bacteria are transmitted through the water to another chicken. "We can probably kill all the bacteria in the chiller water but those bacteria can survive on the chicken skin. We try to use this data to set up the predictive microbial models."
Upon gathering their data, risk assessment teams can then put together a comprehensive model. Detailed information about specific processing procedures is fed into a risk assessment software program. That enables the comprehensive model to offer predictions for specific situations.
"The model tells you that if you run this specific case, the probability that you will get bacterial contamination may be, say, under 6 percent," Li explained. "If you run this model it will tell you that if you set up an inside-outside bird washer with that current spray, you can reduce the risk of Salmonella-positive chicken carcasses by a certain percentage."
A plant manager can analyze the information from a risk assessment model and make decisions based on the results. If the data show that a plant is likely to get a certain number of birds each day contaminated with Salmonella, the manager can use the information to determine what part of the process needs to be strengthened to eliminate contamination.
Microbial risk assessment models may provide poultry companies with a more scientific base for their risk managment, HACCP programs and decision making. They may also provide regulatory agencies a scientific base for devising food safety regulations.
But there is one crucial aspect to remember about risk assessment, Li warns: "The model will never tell you there is no risk."
Beaming Onto Bacteria Tells What's There
Food processors searching for harmful bacteria in their products might someday be able to tell what microorganisms are present just by shining a light.
Susan Carpenter, a Food Safety Consortium investigator at Iowa State University, and Jacob Petrich, an ISU associate professor of chemistry, lead a team of researchers seeking to develop a laser-based technology that will immediately detect foodborne pathogens and determine their quantity.
Jacob Petrich in Iowa State laser lab
The principle guiding the project is fairly simple: bacteria leave specific "signatures" wherever they are, so detecting the specific kinds of bacteria with lasers should be possible based upon the bacteria's "ability to spin out light," Petrich said.
Petrich works in a lab with lasers that can enable scientists to identify what bacteria are present on food. The bacteria, he explained, "make things that give back light of a certain color when you shine light on them."
Currently, the research team is using lasers to see what signatures the bacteria leave and how these signatures can be detected. If successful, the team's long-term goal would be real-time detection of foodborne pathogens on carcasses.
USDA Announces Anti-Salmonella Product
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in March the development of a new product that significantly reduces potential Salmonella contamination in live chickens. The product, Preempt, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale beginning in May.
Preempt is a drug known as a competitive exclusion product. It preempts the growth of Salmonella in chickens' intestines by introducing a blend of 29 live, non-harmful bacteria naturally present in healthy adult chickens. The mixture is sprayed over newly hatched chicks. The chicks peck at their wet feathers and ingest the solution. Then the culture grows inside the chickens' intestines and protects them against infection from Salmonella.
The product was developed by USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists at Texas A&M University in cooperation with MS BioScience of Dundee, Ill. ARS and MS BioScience worked with Tyson Foods of Springdale, Ark., to test Preempt. Tyson provided two of its poultry complexes in Texas and Arkansas to collect data. In field tests involving 80,000 chickens, Preempt reduced Salmonella from an incidence rate of about 7 percent in untreated chickens to zero among the treated chickens.
"The development of Preempt means another we now have another hurdle or barrier to use in the fight to reduce Salmonella," said James H. Denton, a member of the Food Safety Consortium Steering Committee. Denton, the director of the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, noted that Salmonella can be transmitted to live chickens from other sources within the environment. More information is needed to determine if Preempt's ability to protect live chickens from intestinal Salmonella infection carries over to processed carcasses, Denton said.
USDA officials emphasized that while Preempt can help poultry producers reduce the risk of contamination, the product should be used as part of a comprehensive series of food handling and preparation measures. Chicken must still be properly handeld and thoroughly cooked at an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit to be considered safe.
Alliance Forms to 'Fight BAC'
A public-private partnership consisting of industry, government and consumer groups has asked Americans to "Fight BAC!" and reduce foodborne illness by confronting the invisible enemy of foodborne bacteria.
At a Washington kickoff ceremony, two Cabinet Secretaries -- Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala -- joined with the other members of the Partnership for Food Safety Education to unveil the new character "BAC," which will be the cornerstone of one of the most far-reaching and ambitious public education campaigns ever focused on safe food handling.
"Just as the public links Smokey Bear with preventing forest fires, the goal of the 'Fight BAC!' campaign is to educate consumers on the problem of foodborne illness and motivate them to take basic sanitation and food handling steps that will greatly reduce their risk of foodborne illness," Glickman said.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education is launching the Fight BAC! campaign in conjunction with President Clinton's Food Safety Initiative, which is designed to assure the safety of food from the farm to the table. The initiative also includes measures to improve and modernize food inspection and manufacturing procedures; increase research into foodborne pathogens; create a national Early Warning System to detect and respond to foodborne outbreaks; and strengthen coordination among federal, state and local food safety agencies.
The new "Fight BAC!" campaign includes a colorful, 30-second television public service announcement featuring a frustrated "BAC" trying unsuccessfully to spread contamination throughout the kitchen. "The BAC character puts a face on foodborne bacteria, which we believe will help Americans remember that they have the power to control bacteria in their home kitchens," Shalala said. The television spot highlights four basic safe food handling steps and tells viewers "if you want to stay healthy, you've gotta Fight BAC." The new PSA is being distributed nationally to television networks and stations in key markets.
The campaign also features a new web site -- http://www.fightbac.org -- where consumers, health professionals, educators and the media can learn the latest news about preventing foodborne illness. Grassroots consumer educators will appreciate the web site's special links allowing them to access a variety of consumer-friendly food safety information.
More than 50 national, state and local organizations from the public health, government, consumer and industry sectors have agreed to support the "Fight BAC!" campaign and disseminate educational materials. These "BAC Fighters" will maximize the campaign's national outreach and provide important links into thousands of communities nationwide.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education is currently funded by nine industry organizations: The American Egg Board, American Meat Institute, Food Marketing Institute, Industry Council on Food Safety/National Restaurant Association, National Broiler Council, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Produce Marketing Association, The Soap and Detergent Association and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. The Grocery Manufacturers of America has also contributed to the effort.
At the same time, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its agencies -- the Food Safety and Inspection Service, and the Cooperative State, Research, Education and Extension Service -- together with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its agencies -- the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- have committed their technical expertise and in-kind resources in implementing the campaign. Also joining the Partnership is the Association of Food and Drug Officials and serving as advisors are the Consumer Federation of America, Public Voice for Food and Health Policy and Carol Tucker Foreman, a food safety advocate and former assistant secretary of agriculture.
Arkansas Food Safety Curriculum Launched
The Food Safety Consortium joined several other organizations in February to support Operation Food Safety, a program in Arkansas aimed at preventing food-related illness by teaching students about food handling and preparation.
James Denton, a member of the Food Safety Consortium Steering Committee and director of the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, said the federal Centers for
Disease Control estimates that 97 percent of food-related illnesses come from mishandling food. Despite the fact that research and regulatory communities have been making significant progress toward the goal of a safer food supply, it has become apparent that only through the educational
process will there be an actual long-term contribution to improving the safety of the food supply, Denton said.
With the realization that education should be the focus of preventative efforts, Operation Food Safety, an educational initiative resulting from Arkansas Act 1274, was developed as a comprehensive educational program designed for Arkansas' public school system.
"By Arkansas taking a leadership position in bringing food safety concerns to the classroom, we hope we will make some significant strides in reducing the number of people who become infected by foodborne illnesses," Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said.
Amy Waldroup, A Consortium principal investigator and University of Arkansas professor of poultry science, chairs the curriculum subcommittee for pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. Susan Slaughter, the curriculum writer, and Waldroup conducted the first workshop for teachers. Feedback from these teachers will allow Waldroup's committee to fine-tune the curriculum.
John Marcy, a Consortium principal investigator and an extension food scientist at the University of Arkansas, chairs the subcommittee for grades nine through 12. He has been working with teachers to incorporate food safety materials into the health curriculum as well as consumer/family classes.
Slaughter said educating elementary students is taking first priority because they are the most susceptible to foodborne illnesses because their immune systems are not fully developed. Also, many young students are left to prepare snacks and meals while parents are working. There is a shortage of educational materials designed for elementary students.
The Operation Food Safety elementary curriculum contains three main units: the first unit, hand washing, addresses personal hygiene issues and uses puppets named Squeaky and Clean to demonstrate proper hand washing techniques; the second unit, keeping things clean, addresses cleanliness in the kitchen and dangers of cross contamination; the third unit, keeping food hot or cold, addresses time and temperature guidelines.
Denton said the Operation Food Safety curriculum will be tested and validated to serve as a model for food safety education in the United States.
Papers and Presentations
Daniel Fung, Kansas State, was the 1997 recipient of the Institute of Food Technologists International Award. He was honored for educating students and teachers about advancements in microbiology and for promoting a safer world food supply. He was cited for conducting an annual international workshop at Kansas State since 1980 on rapid method pathogen detection. The workshop draws participants from 45 countries. He has also organized satellite workshops in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, France, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Brazil, Colombia, Poland, Hungary, Mexico and Zimbabwe. Fung serves as a member of the IFT Executive Committee and as an IFT Food Science Communicator. He is past chair of the IFT International Relations Committee, a Fellow of IFT and the American Society for Microbiology and a past president of the Chinese American Food Society.
Fung, Kansas State, has also been elected to the first class of Fellows of the International Academy of Food Science and Technology. The first group of Fellows consists of past presidents and secretaries general of the International Union of Food Science and Technology, an umbrella organization of more than 100 food science associations in the world. Fung will be honored at the organization's 1999 meeting in Sydney, Australia. He was also invited to serve on a National Environmental Health Association committee to develop a testing instrument for Registered Food Safety and Protection Professionals. The registration is designed for inspectors as well as food safety professionals.
Fung, Kansas State, and Rafael Pabon co-authored an article on "Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology: A 17-Year Survey of Professional Microbiologists" for Food Testing and Analysis, Vol. 3, No. 6, pages 20-36. Fung was also interviewed about the safety of salad by KSNT-TV in Topeka, Kan., and the Wichita (Kan.) Eagle.
Don Kropf, Kansas State, was interviewed on WIBW-TV in Topeka, Kan., about irradiation of meat following the Food and Drug Administration authorizing the procedure.
Sharon Luchsinger, Don Kropf, Claudia Garcia Zepeda, Melvin Hunt, S.L. Stroda, James Marsden and Curtis Kastner, Kansas State, were authors of two articles in the Journal of Muscle Foods, Vol. 8, No. 4. The articles are "Color and Oxidative Properties of Irradiated Whole Muscle Beef" (pages 427-443) and "Color and Oxidative Properties of Irradiated Ground Beef Patties" (pages 445-464).
Michael Johnson and Brad Marks, both of Arkansas, were members of a team that was awarded a three-year USDA National Needs Fellowship to support fellowships for two pre doctoral students in food science.
Johnson and Zeliha Yildirim, Arkansas, recently published "Characterization and Antimicrobial Spectrum of Bifidocin B, a Bacteriocin Produced by Bifidobacterium bifidum NCFB 1454" in the Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 61, No.1, pages 47-51.
The work of Johnson and his colleagues at Arkansas on bacteriocins was featured in "Bacteria to the Rescue," the cover story by Janet Raloff in the Feb. 7 edition of Science News (Vol. 153, No. 6, pages 89-90). The article was entitled "Staging Germ Warfare in Foods: Science Harnesses Bacteria to Fend Off Food Poisoning and Spoilage."
Four Consortium researchers in the food science department food safety lab at Arkansas were elected to membership in Sigma Xi, the national honor society. They are Rama Nannapaneni, full member, and Jim Goff, Marlene Janes and Zeliha Yildirim, associate members.
John Marcy, Arkansas, coordinated the preparations for and participated in Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's press conference in February announcing the state's Operation Food Safety curriculum project for public schools. Marcy also attended the meeting in January of the National Advisory Committee for Meat and Poultry Inspection in Washington.
Evelyn Dean-Nystrom, National Animal Disease Center, was invited to participate in a workshop on farm animals as a reservoir of E. coli 0157:H7 at the Rowlett Research Institute in April in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her presentation was entitled, "Bovine Infections with Escherichia coli 0157:H7."
Dennis Olson, Iowa State, delivered a presentation on "Irradiation 101" in February at the "Seminar on Irradiation: Fact or Fiction" sponsored by the American Meat Institute Foundation and the National Center for Food Safety and Technology. Olson also participated in "A Round Table on Food Irradiation" convened in February by Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, the National Food Processors Association and the International Food Information Council.
George Beran and Terry Proescholdt, Iowa State, coordinated a training program in January for food establishment inspectors in Iowa. The focus was on education rather than regulations and emphasized the participation of inspectors in HACCP systems. Beran provided lectures and problem-based projects in foodborne diseases, prevention and investigation. Proescholdt conducted lab exercises in food microbiology.
Several Consortium investigators participated in Iowa State's Meat Irradiation Media Day on campus in February. Dennis Olson presented an overview of irradiation, James Dickson discussed irradiation's role in food safety, Dermot Hayes reviewed consumer acceptance of irradiated food, and George Beran lectured on food safety from farm to table.
Food Safety Digest
The Food Safety Consortium has reorganized its web site to accommodate easier navigation. The site, at http://www.uark.edu/depts/fsc, is divided into four categories: web pages pertaining to the Consortium, a list of links to recent articles about food safety in the news media, links to food safety calendars of events, and links to other food safety sites.
The list of links to other food safety sites has been expanded and each link is accompanied by a one-paragraph description of the site. The list is divided into categories: general information sites; database sites; research methods and new research; research abstracts; universities, academic institutions and national centers; industries and associations; medical sites, and discussion groups.
Consortium-produced web pages on the site include The Food Safety Consortium Newsletter, the 1998 personnel directory, 1997-98 FSC research projects, and patents.
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The Beef Industry Food Safety Council is stepping up the battle against foodborne pathogens in beef such as E. coli 0157:H7. The council agreed recently to develop science-based strategies for the industry. "The council is focused on prevention and has made an industrywide commitment to the development and implementation of a full-fledged farm-to-table food safety strategy," said Chuck Schroeder, council chairman and chief executive officer of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
The council said producers and marketers should understand their roles in delivering safe beef to consumers. Schroeder noted that some elements of the council's strategy can be implemented quickly, but others such as research initiatives will take time for more development.
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Federal regulations implementing Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points systems in large processing plants went into effect in January. HAACP, a science-based system for detecting and preventing contamination of meat and poultry, is being phased in to plants of various sizes over three years.
Commodity groups such as the National Broiler Council and the American Meat Institute reported that the implementation has apparently gone smoothly around the nation, according to Poultry Times. Thomas J. Billy, administrator of the federal Food Safety and Inspection Service, said in a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture in-plant personnel that he was "pleased with the progress made in implementing HACCP systems in meat and poultry plants throughout the country."
HACCP systems were required to be implemented in January in plants with at least 500 employees. The rule implementing the system takes effect in plants of 10 to 499 employees in January 1999. The deadline for plants with fewer than 10 employees or annual sales of no more than $2.5 million is January 2000.
Return to FSC Newsletter index page.