The Food Safety Consortium Newsletter

Vol. 8, Number 3

Summer 1998


  • Universities, ARS Form National Alliance for Food Safety
  • FSC Displays Research at Capitol
  • Ginseng's Food Safety Prospects Studied
  • Irradiation Industry Called Key to Success
  • Report From the Coordinator
  • Team Seeks Detection System for Poultry
  • Food Safety on the Farm a Crucial Link
  • HACCP Classes Take on New Urgency
  • New Official to Work With Small Plants
  • Beran Retires at Iowa State
  • Kosher Process May Aid Small Plants
  • Funding Asked for Food Safety Initiative
  • Microbiologist/Molecular Biologist Position
  • Papers and Presentations
  • Food Dafety Digest

    Universities, ARS Form National Alliance for Food Safety

    Nineteen universities and the federal Agricultural Research Service (ARS), working with the support of other federal agencies, have joined forces to create the National Alliance for Food Safety. The NAFS will work with government, industry and consumer groups to advance its mission of enhancing the safety of the food system. The NAFS is being designed to plan and coordinate activities in food safety research, education and outreach.

    Other federal agencies supporting the new organization are the Food Safety and Inspection Service and the Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, which with ARS are components of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    "The Alliance will provide ways to focus our scientific expertise on the issues and questions regarding all aspects of food safety," said Charles Scifres, dean of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas, which is serving as the NAFS' administrative secretariat. "We hope the Alliance will serve as a model for partnering of the university system and the USDA-ARS on a national basis to solve critical problems."

    The NAFS, which is in its early stages of development, seeks to identify and help set priorities for food safety research and educational needs. Its members will collaborate to use their resources most effectively in research and education. It will also serve as a national resource for government, academia, industry and news media on food safety issues.

    "A major strength of the NAFS is its geographical diversity," Scifres said. "Research addressing food safety management practices will be representative of industrywide practices throughout the country. Educational initiatives will be representative of needs of all regions of the U.S."

    Participating universities are the three charter members of the Food Safety Consortium &emdash; the University of Arkansas, Iowa State University and Kansas State University &emdash; the University of California-Davis, Cornell University, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Michigan State University, Mississippi State University, the University of Nebraska, North Carolina State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech University, Washington State University/University of Idaho and the University of Wisconsin.

    NAFS representatives said the participation of federal agencies will strengthen the Alliance's ability to address improved food safety inspection systems, implementation of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point systems, risk analysis and modeling, and health, medical and epidemiological programs. The NAFS will also address emerging issues related to global issues involving international marketing of U.S. products and importation of food into the nation.

    An Alliance Advisory Committee will be created and will consist of individuals selected from professional associations, trade associations, processor organizations, consumer organizations and federal agencies.

    The university-ARS partnership brings to NAFS various research strengths in food safety. They include expertise in muscle foods, minimally processed foods, fruits, vegetables, dairy products, cereals and grains, aquaculture, seafoods and egg products. Disciplines of expertise include epidemiology, toxicology, risk assessment, microbiology and virology.

    The NAFS will also emphasize food safety education for target audiences. The NAFS' role will be to provide an integrated approach to food safety education that will involve research scientists, government officials, industry representatives and educators. The NAFS seeks to form partnerships with community colleges and public school systems to enable it to reach all segments of the population.

    FSC Displays Research at Capitol

    The Food Safety Consortium was recently represented at an exhibition sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC). The exhibition of university agricultural research projects was part of a reception on May 19 in Washington at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

    The Consortium displayed a poster depicting highlights of its federally funded research projects at the University of Arkansas, Iowa State University and Kansas State University. Several members of congressional staffs, U.S. Department of Agriculture personnel and representatives of other universities stopped by the display and obtained background information about the Consortium's work.

    James Denton, a member of the Consortium steering committee and director of the University of Arkansas Center of Excellence for Poultry Science, represented the Consortium at the exhibition and answered questions about its research.

    Participants at the exhibition presented 47 displays describing research efforts at universities to augment agricultural yields, to produce more nutritious and safer food, to find solutions to environmental problems and to develop skills to manage risk in the global market. NASULGC called for greater federal support of agricultural research, citing an erosion of such funding in recent years.

    "Shortchanging the food and agricultural system with its unique USDA/land-grant university partnership at this juncture would interrupt the advances of the past half-century and impede our future progress," NASULGC said.

    Ginseng's Food Safety Prospects Studied

    The medicinal qualities of ginseng have been known for centuries since the Chinese began using it for therapeutic purposes. Another possible use for it is now being explored: ginseng as a vehicle for safer food.

    Jin-Man Kim (left) and Daniel Fung at Kansas State University gather samples to examine ginseng's effect on pathogenic bacteria in food.

    Daniel Fung, a principal investigator with the Food Safety Consortium at Kansas State University, enjoys using ginseng in his tea. "People who have been using ginseng for a long time feel good," Fung said. So it seemed to be a logical extension to look into whether ginseng can kill pathogenic bacteria in food.

    Fung's research team prepared a series of solutions of ginseng tea in distilled water. The researchers are investigating if the ginseng can suppress pathogens from growing in the tea and in the human digestive system.

    Fung started with the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes and found that ginseng delayed its growth for six hours. "After this we'll try E. coli and all the other pathogens," Fung said. "If they can suppress the organism from growing, then if you eat some E. coli in your food, theoretically you can drink ginseng tea and the pathogenic organisms' growth will be suppressed."

    Fung's researchers are running tests on bacterial samples by using technology that can analyze up to 400 combinations of varying amounts of ginseng and pathogenic bacteria. The results are being compiled to determine what level of ginseng is needed to suppress different levels of pathogens on food.

    As people eat their food, anything that is contaminated could be intercepted by ginseng tea. Fung emphasized that the ginseng has not been found to kill the microbes, but their growth can be stopped long enough to remove threats to the digestive system.

    "This is a natural product that people are using already," Fung said. "So I think the possibility of it being approved for use is very high. We just want to find out if it can kill the organisms or not. If they do, then maybe we can extract it to put in different foods."

    Ginseng could have an impact on the safety of fresh-cut food products. If ginseng compounds are sprayed on processed vegetables and salads to delay pathogens' growth, "it will be a wonderful application," Fung said. "This compound does not have distinctive taste if you combine it with other food."

    Irradiation Industry Called Key to Success

    Even though the federal government is removing the legal obstacles to irradiation of food, the technology will not catch on until the irradiation industry makes it easy for food processors to use.

    "If it's difficult to adopt, nobody is going to use it," said Joseph Borsa, market development director for MDS Nordion, a radiation technology company in Kanata, Ontario. Borsa explained the potential for commercialization of irradiation in April at the annual meeting of the Ozark Food Processors Association in Springdale, Ark.

    The irradiation industry has three objectives to meet in commercializing its service, Borsa said. The industry must make irradiation accessible for those processors who want to use it, irradiation-pasteurized food must be made available to consumers who want it, and irradiation processing of food must become "a viable industry standard," he said.

    To achieve these objectives, Borsa called for the development and expansion of business relationships between food processors and irradiation service providers. "There are a number of retail and food service outlets carrying irradiated products but it's really just a trickle," he said. "There is still no large-scale movement of irradiated products."

    The biggest obstacle to progress for irradiation is that no "breakthrough" major commitment has been made by a corporation. "No really well known company has declared that they are going to use this and offer this choice for customers," Borsa said. "Nobody has yet stepped forward at the processing or retail level. But let me tell you that everybody wants to be second."

    Other obstacles exist. The meat industry does not have plants throughout the nation, so irradiation might not be immediately available to processors who want it. Borsa said this would be a temporary situation. "Once the demand arises and one of the processors says, 'I want it for my product,' the irradiation industry will respond. There is a thriving and healthy irradiation industry in this country processing things other than food. They are ready and willing to commit as soon as somebody is ready to form a partnership and go forward."

    The commercialization of food irradiation is being driven by its benefits, such as killing microorganisms and inhibiting sprouting, Borsa noted.

    "As far as the consumers are concerned, they could give a hoot about the technical benefits," he said. "They are interested in food that is safe. They want fresher food. They want more convenient food with less spoilage."

    Borsa acknowledged that the implementation of food irradiation has been slow, with the movement characterized by skepticism and a lack of interest until recently. "In the last two or three years, and especially the last year, the rate of interest has been just phenomenal in terms of the change in atmosphere out there."

    Features about food irradiation in the news media have become more positive, he said. In earlier years, irradiated food was often called "nuked food" or "zapped food."

    Also, major industry associations support irradiation. Borsa listed the American Meat Institute, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Food Processors Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation among them. "You've got the umbrella organizations reaching from the farm through the manufacturers through the retail end."

    Government regulatory agencies have also become positive and proactive about irradiation, he said, citing the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Centers for Disease Control and state health departments as supporting the process.

    And most significantly, Borsa said, the investment community has taken favorable notice of irradiation. "They have decided that something is happening and there is an opportunity for good investments."

    Report From the Coordinator

    By Charles J. Scifres

    As reported elsewhere in this edition of the newsletter, the Food Safety Consortium is part of the newly founded National Alliance for Food Safety. The NAFS is in its infancy, but we intend for it to have a truly nationwide impact with the participation of 19 universities from coast to coast in partnership with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

    Before any misunderstandings arise, let's make it clear that the NAFS is not a replacement for the Food Safety Consortium. The FSC, through its three member universities at Arkansas, Iowa State and Kansas State, is a member of the NAFS. But the FSC is still a separate entity with its own mandate from Congress to conduct food safety research in beef, poultry and pork.

    The idea of the NAFS was conceived as a result of discussions among Food Safety Consortium personnel. The FSC's work covers a major part of the overall food safety picture, but not the entire picture. Universities across the country engage in various disciplines related to food safety. There has been a need to bring together these many disciplines and the universities with their respective areas of expertise.

    So representatives of the FSC began contacting colleagues at institutions around the country known for their work in food safety research and education. We asked if they would be interested in meeting and discussing ways to form a broad-based national food safety organization. The response was positive and our first meeting was held in Kansas City in February. At that meeting, the name of the National Alliance for Food Safety was born and a mission began to take shape.

    The universities and the government agencies who are members of NAFS met again in Detroit in June to elect a board of directors and to continue working on the details that accompany the process of getting a new organization off the ground and to arrange for funding.

    Collaboration has been a key element of the Food Safety Consortium and will be so for the National Alliance for Food Safety. The NAFS statement of need points out that the lack of a single organization providing oversight of food safety research and education has slowed our nation's progress in this vital area. Our statement says the solutions to food safety issues nationally and internationally require "a holistic proactive approach to organizing and coordinating food safety research, education and outreach efforts."

    Many questions about specific plans for NAFS are still to be answered as day-to-day details are worked out. As the process continues, we will keep our constituencies informed. Our Consortium personnel can be proud of the essential role they have played in the evolution of the FSC and its role in the establishment of this new national alliance.

    Team Seeks Detection System for Poultry

    The poultry industry is constantly on guard against letting objects such as bone fragments and other unwanted materials become embedded in chicken meat during processing. Scientists in the Food Safety Consortium are working on a new procedure that will use x-rays and laser rays to detect such hazardous objects quickly and reliably.

    X-rays are currently used to detect fragments, but the uneven thickness of a piece of chicken meat poses a practical problem, explained Yang Tao, a Consortium investigator on the biological and agricultural engineering faculty at the University of Arkansas. If an object is buried in the thickest part of the meat, the x-ray signal weakens as it penetrates the meat.

    "Certain bones at different locations look different in the x-rays," Tao said. The x-ray imaging process also does not provide adequate resolution of the image, depending on the level of meat thickness at a given point.

    Another method of detection also uses x-rays after the meat has been pumped into a pipe and compressed into a rectangular block. The system works well for ground beef because of the meat's uniform consistency, but it is damaging to whole meat such as chicken pieces, Tao said.

    "The x-ray image shows markings, but you're not sure what they might be," Tao said. "It is difficult to differentiate x-ray images of bone fragments embedded in the meat from false patterns made on the meat's image."

    The chicken can be immersed in water to flood the meat and equalize its thickness in the image, which would make bone fragments and foreign objects more detectable. But this process in not a realistic solution.

    "Water has its own problems," Tao said. "It's messy and introduces potential contamination and sanitation problems."

    Laser-range imaging appears to combine the best of the more traditional methods without the inherent disadvantages. It provides a three-dimensional image without involving water or physically invading the meat.

    "We use optical electronics to create a situation like water does and create an image like this," Tao said. "You combine the x-ray and the laser 3-D images to create an image that compensates the variations in thickness and that reduces the appearance of false patterns on the image. Then it makes it easier to find fragments and extract what shouldn't be there."

    The laser range system provides information to the image that allows for whatever amount of thickness surrounds an object in the meat. It compensates for the inability of two-dimensional x rays to reflect those variations in their images.

    The Consortium's project is in its early stages. Researchers have visited with personnel in poultry processing plants to learn from front-line workers and managers what problems they have experienced and what they would expect from a new type of image detection system.

    Tao said more equipment is being set up for detailed experiments to be conducted later. A final report is expected by mid-1999.

    Food Safety on the Farm a Crucial Link

    The farmers who produce the nation's food supply are the first link in the animal food safety chain. Regardless of what safety precautions are taken farther down the line by processors, transporters, retailers and consumers, the farmers have the first responsibility for sending a clean product into the system.

    Food Safety Consortium researchers at Iowa State University are examining the prevalence of pathogenic bacteria in living animals at the production level. The Salmonella bacterium is a significant problem among farm animals and the object of the Iowa State team's work on swine farms.

    "We are learning about those factors that control the transmission of these bacteria and that control their presence in animals as they go to slaughter," said George Beran, the Consortium's program director at Iowa State. "If we can encourage those practices so that we lower the prevalence of foodborne pathogens, the less the hazard is through the rest of the system in slaughter, processing, distribution and retail."

    Microbiological hazards in animal production fall into four categories, Beran explained: pathogens which enter the food chain only in living animals, pathogens which enter the food chain in living animals but also multiply on meat and cross contaminate products, pathogens which thrive in the environment and enter the food chain wherever environmental contamination exists, and pathogens carried by animal and product handlers through food servers.

    Contaminated feed presents part of the problem. Studies at the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa, on eight farms found that 2.8 percent of 1,264 feed and feed ingredient samples were contaminated with Salmonella. "It's a relatively low level but it's a very important one because that can then be a source to other animals of exposure," Beran said.

    The presence of Salmonella in the feed may be caused by contamination from rats or mice, Beran said. It could possibly be traced to infected pigs, to people with the bacteria on their clothes or hands, or to the feed milling equipment.

    "Grinding or mixing of feed will not destroy Salmonella," Beran said. Pelleting feeds can inactivate Salmonella, but the bacteria can still be moved from one farm to another or from one sector of a herd to another. "As we move to raising herds that are free or at very low levels of some of these foodborne organisms, we've got to protect them from re-entry."

    Segregation of baby pigs from the sows is proving to be one way of reducing the likelihood of Salmonella infection at early ages. "The sows are a source of two things to the baby pigs," Beran said. "The sows that are carriers of pathogens are a source of infection for those organisms. At the same time, the sows are a source of protection of the baby pigs from infection because they provide antibodies."

    Iowa State's studies have shown that segregation of the baby pigs from the sows is the more beneficial choice. If farmers move the baby pigs away from the older pigs and into a nursery as soon as possible before they become infected, then the chances are good the pigs will remain uninfected.

    Salmonella infection rates on the farm were found to be higher during the warmer months of the year &emdash; June to December &emdash; than during the first months of the year. Summer is an ideal time for pathogenic bacteria to multiply. Also, rats and mice are more active then and the greater prevalence of flies during that period enables the bacteria to be carried.

    It's a given situation that farmers must accommodate because producers must maximize their facilities by using them all year, Beran noted. "We recommend that they raise hogs in batches, then move those batches on and fill again."

    HACCP Classes Take on New Urgency

    John Marcy knew that poultry processors would want to take advantage of some workshops that would prepare them for changes in federal food safety rules. He didn't realize how popular the workshops would become until the implementation of more changes in the rules took demand to new levels.

    Marcy planned to coordinate two workshops during 1998 at the University of Arkansas under sponsorship of the Food Safety Consortium, the university's Center of Excellence for Poultry Science and the Arkansas Poultry Federation. "We could probably offer a course once a month and fill it," said Marcy, a principal investigator with the Consortium and extension food scientist in the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science. He and his colleagues will likely re-evaluate their plans in view of the increased demand.

    The popularity of the workshops may have been assured once the U.S. Department of Agriculture's new regulations governing processing plant inspection systems began going into effect. The new rules went into effect for the nation's largest plants &emdash; those employing more than 500 people &emdash; in January 1998. Plants with 10 to 499 employees will be covered under the new regulation in January 1999 and those with no more than nine employees will be covered in January 2000.

    Under the new regulations, plants are required to develop their own Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans subject to USDA approval. Each plant's plan is tailored to its specific situation. In the rules published in the Federal Register, a plant is required to list the critical control points for each food safety hazard identified as "reasonably likely to occur in the production process." The regulations define a critical control point as a point, step or procedure in the food process at which a control can be applied to prevent, eliminate or reduce to an acceptable level food safety hazard.

    The HACCP rules, which were first announced in 1996 by USDA, have long been called science-based by government and industry officials. Marcy, however, says that a revision in the rules was implemented as the largest plants were preparing for HACCP regulations to go into effect in January 1998. That change, he said, converted HACCP from a scientific basis to a regulatory one.

    The revised rule, published in the Federal Register in January, said the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service had determined that "some persons are viewing CCPs (critical control points) so narrowly that they risk noncompliance with regulatory requirements." The rule said FSIS was concerned that some plants may not be evaluating critical control points as required.

    "FSIS will treat failure to specify at least one CCP for each food safety hazard identified in accordance with the regulations as reasonably likely to occur as a failure to develop and implement a HACCP plan" that complies with the regulation, except for those hazards associated with microbiological contamination, the rule said.

    Marcy said the change has resulted in more arbitrary and non-science-based decisions by USDA inspectors in slaughter plants. Plants have had to list as critical control points items that on site inspectors want to check, even if there is no scientific or public health basis for doing so, he said. A decision by inspectors to withhold inspection services means plants cannot operate until specified problems are resolved. Marcy said about 30 plants across the nation have been shut down for various periods in recent months.

    Zero tolerance for visible fecal contamination on the carcass is one of those critical control points that are required to be addressed under the changes, Marcy said, citing the move as one that doesn't make sense scientifically during the slaughter process because the absence or presence of visible fecal contamination does not correspond directly with the bacterial pathogens that are of concern to public health.

    The slaughtering process by its nature doesn't have a "kill step" to completely eliminate bacterial contamination and that makes HACCP difficult to make effective during slaughter even in its scientific application, Marcy noted. "The pathogens continue through the process."

    Although FSIS has expressed hopes for salmonella to be reduced as a result of HACCP implementation, Marcy said, that outcome won't be known until the data from summer is compiled later in the year.

    "The zero tolerance edict during slaughter really is driving how plants try to stay in operation," Marcy said. Plant operators now "have to figure out what the local inspector's opinions are. And even those can change depending upon the opinions of an inspector's circuit supervisor."

    Plant managers, Marcy said, must now take those matters under consideration. "They have to do whatever it takes to run and not worry about the science."

    The net result for the workshops has been a change in the curriculum. The scientific aspects of HACCP are still taught, but "then we have discussions on 'this is the science but this is what's happening in the real world,'" Marcy said. HACCP coordinators from plants come to the Arkansas campus once a month for roundtable discussions among themselves and then with a district FSIS representative.

    Under HACCP, plants challenged by on-site inspectors now have the burden of proving that their product is not adulterated. "And it's almost impossible to prove a negative," Marcy said.

    "In cooked meat or poultry operations, the HACCP plans have all been straightforward and that's where HACCP plans make total sense," Marcy said. "These companies really have to

    understand scientific HACCP." But despite the consternation that Marcy said many slaughter plant managers feel so far, HACCP is worth maintaining.

    "HACCP will work eventually. It may take a decade but it really is the right way to go."

    New Official to Work With Small Plants

    The Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on July 7 the appointment of a national

    coordinator for a program to assist about 3,500 federal and 500 state small livestock and poultry slaughter and processing establishments comply with requirements of new food safety regulations next January.

    Mary Cutshall, who has been employed by FSIS for the past 12 years in a variety of positions in Washington and throughout the country, will work closely with 50 new state coordinators to facilitate the flow of information between the states and FSIS about details of the new rule that will implement pathogen reduction and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems.

    Cutshall, a food technologist, will work with states to provide information, encouragement, and assistance to small livestock and poultry slaughter and processing plants with at least 10 employees but not more than 499 employees or more than $2.5 million in sales. This second stage of HACCP implementation in January 1999 will follow the January 1998 effective date for 300 large plants to comply with pathogen reduction and HACCP system regulations.

    "Because small plants have less resources to draw upon in preparation for HACCP implementation, FSIS has implemented an intensive, focused outreach program to assist small plants in preparing for operations that comply with pathogen reduction and HACCP requirements," said FSIS Administrator Thomas J. Billy.

    "I look forward to working with state coordinators to ensure that operators of small plants have the information and encouragement they need in time for an effective and smooth transition into the new system," said Cutshall, who has served in FSIS field positions in Atlanta, Seattle, and Philadelphia. She has experience in labor management relations, regulatory programs, FSIS science and technology offices, processing operations, and assisted in the planning and development of the new HACCP inspection system.

    Beran Retires at Iowa State

    George Beran, chair of Iowa State University's research program for the Food Safety Consortium, has retired after 25 years on ISU's faculty.

    George Beran and his wife Jan greet well-wishers at his retirement reception June 25 at Iowa State' horticultural gardens.

    A reception for Beran was held June 25. The distinguished professor of microbiology, immunology and preventive medicine will continue to serve as director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center in Risk Assessment and Hazard Intervention in Foods of Animal Origin.

    Beran led a group of Food Safety Consortium researchers that included more than 75 scientists, staff, graduate students, industry and government representatives, and international collaborators. The Iowa State group focuses on pork safety programs. Beran's major research areas have included the transmission of infectious agents from animals and animal products to people, and the control and elimination of transmissible infectious agents from animals and animal products.

    Kosher Process May Aid Small Plants

    Using the kosher process on meat and poultry &emdash; the salting and soaking of the product &emdash; is a requirement of Jewish dietary laws and a regular practice in kosher processing plants. Now it appears that the procedure may kill pathogenic bacteria and might provide benefits if applied to non-kosher processing.

    "It's come up several times anecdotally that we just don't seem to see contamination problems in kosher meat," said James Marsden, a Food Safety Consortium investigator at Kansas State University. Marsden is leading a KSU research project for the Consortium that has found kosher processing seems to reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria.

    The process is inexpensive and doesn't require much equipment. These attributes could make it attractive to small food processors that would not ordinarily be able to afford the more sophisticated food safety techniques. Technologies such as steam pasteurization and irradiation favor larger companies, Marsden noted.

    "How do you go down to the small meat company that has 20 employees and talk about steam pasteurization and irradiation?" he asked.

    The koshering technology can be used for small operations in a modified way that does not result in kosher meat but that still employs salt and cold water to kill microbes. "The underpinnings of the kosher technology could be used in any plant, even the smallest plant," Marsden said.

    The project analyzed 15 beef carcasses before and after the koshering process. The koshered carcasses had E. coli bacteria detected at consistently low levels and at considerably lower levels than were recorded before koshering.

    Rubbing kosher salt onto the surface of the meat causes antimicrobial results, Marsden said. The salt apparently pulls the bacteria to the surface so that they are more efficiently washed away.

    Koshering is a centuries-old process based on rabbinical dietary laws that do not permit treatments such as hot water washing or steam pasteurization. The rules that govern kosher procedures prohibit many of the antimicrobial functions performed in non-kosher plants.

    "With kosher, you really can't do anything to the meat until the blood has been removed," Marsden said. "There's a lot of residual blood that stays in the carcass. Until the blood is removed, the antimicrobial treatments like application of steam cannot be done."

    The KSU project is exploring the removal of blood from the carcasses followed by an immediate rinsing. If the U.S. Department of Agriculture approves the process, "then we would hope that we would have a situation where kosher carcasses could be treated with steam or hot water or both and essentially be on the same level playing field as non-kosher facilities," Marsden said.

    USDA officials are still reviewing the idea, but it has already passed inspection with rabbinical authorities. "They've been extremely impressed with what they've seen so far," Marsden said.

    Funding Asked for Food Safety Initiative

    Vice President Al Gore called on Congress on July 2 to fund the President's Food Safety Initiative, and he also urged state and local governments and consumers to do their part to make America's food safer.

    "When it comes to food safety, everyone has a role to play,'' said Gore, who was joined at the Agriculture Department by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and food safety advocate Carol Tucker Foreman.

    The vice president's call to fund the President's Food Safety Initiative came after the Senate Appropriations Committee recently allocated $2.6 million and the House allocated $16.8 million.

    This initiative calls for:

    * Giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to prevent the import of produce from countries that lack safety precautions equivalent to U.S. standards;

    * Further expanding the nation's early warning system and strengthening state surveillance activities for foodborne illness;

    * Hiring FDA inspectors to improve the safety of the nation's fruit and vegetables, both domestic and imported;

    * Developing new ways for federal inspectors to detect foodborne illnesses in meat and poultry and determine the sources of contamination; and

    * Improving education outreach on proper food handling.

    Gore encouraged state and local governments and the retail food industry to follow the food safety recommendations in the FDA's Food Code &emdash; its recommended but voluntary standards and practices to keep food safe in restaurants, grocery stores, nursing homes, day care centers, and other local food service operations.


    A post-doctoral position is available October 1, 1998, in the Enteric Diseases Food Safety Research Unit, at the USDA, Agricultural Research Service, National Animal Disease Center, Ames, Iowa. The incumbent will develop rapid methods to detect human foodborne pathogens, specifically Yersinia, in livestock. Rapid methods to be developed may include immunomagnetic separation coupled with PCR. The resultant PCR-based method will be compared to conventional bacteriological culture for sensitivity, specificity, processing time, and cost. Field studies will be needed to evaluate the assay. The assay ultimately will evaluate the ability of on-farm management systems to reduce the load of Yersinia in pigs. A strong background in molecular biology techniques (e.g. PCR primer design, optimization, etc.) is required.

    Starting salary is approximately $38,593 per year plus benefits. USDA, ARS is an equal opportunity employer.

    Send resume and names of 3 references to:

    Irene Wesley, DPH
    Lead Scientist, Campylobacter, Listeria Research
    Laboratory A-18
    National Animal Disease Center
    2300 Dayton Road
    Ames, Iowa 50010
    515-239-2891 or e-mail:

Papers and Presentations

Don Kropf, Kansas State, presented reports on "Safety of Cooked Ground Beef" to the Mid-Continental Association of Food and Drug Officials in March in Wichita, Kan.; "Update on Food Safety Research" for the South Dakota Food Safety Conference in April via satellite; "Quality Characteristics" to the Iowa State University Meat and Poultry Irradiation Short Course in May in Ames; "Packaging Strategies to Minimize Oxidation in Muscle Foods" to the Antioxidative Strategies for Muscle Foods Symposium of the 1998 Institute of Food Technologists annual meeting, and "End Point Cooking Temperature and Color" to the American Meat Science Association's 51st annual Reciprocal Meats Conference in July in Storrs, Conn.

Curtis Kastner, Kansas State, served as chair of Beef Industry Food Safety Council's Ground Beef Subcommittee. Kastner also presented the conference summary at the Western Science Research Update Conference on "Realities of E. coli 0157:H7" in February in San Francisco.

Deanna Retzlaff, Randall Phebus, S.A. Rueger, James L. Marsden and Curtis Kastner, Kansas State, presented a paper on "Microbial Evaluation of Steam Pasteurization and Comparison of Excision Versus Sponge Sampling Recovery" at the 1998 KSU Cattlemen's Day. Ted Brown, Phebus, Penni E. Peters, Abbey L. Nutsch, Kastner and Donald Kropf presented a paper on "Evaluation of Changes in Microbial Population on Beef Carcasses Resulting From Steam Pasteurization." Kelly J. Karr, Kastner, Marsden and Phebus presented a paper on "Control of Escherichia coli 0157:H7 in Large-Diameter, Lebanon Style Bologna."

Daniel Fung, Kansas State, delivered the following lectures this spring: the opening speech for the S&J Laboratory Microbiology Workshop on rapid methods and automation in food microbiology in April in Kalamazoo, Mich.; rapid methods and automation in microbiology at the Central New York Section of the Institute of Food Technologists New Heights in Food Safety Symposium in April in Ithaca, N.Y.; two lectures on rapid methods and viable cell count procedures and a workshop on food microbiology at the Food Safety International Conference in April in Dallas, assisted by KSU graduate students Beth Ann Crozier-Dodson and Maha Hajmeer; rapid methods in microbiology at the Great Plains Subsection of the Institute of Food Technologists in April at South Dakota State University, where he was also interviewed on television by the university's communications department; an overview of rapid test methods at the Society of Cosmetic Chemists/Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association Symposium in May in Seattle, and update on rapid methods at the Hansen Technical Meeting in May in Milwaukee.

Fung also co-authored "The Pulsifier: A New Instrument for Preparing Food Suspensions for Microbiological Analysis" with A.N. Sharpe of the Bureau of Microbial Hazards of Health Canada and Y. Liu of Kalyx Biosciences of Canada in the Journal of Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology 6 (1998) 43-49, and "New Methods for Screening Lactic Acid Bacteria That Produce Bacteriocin Active Against Listeria monocytogenes and for Determining Bacteriocin Activity" with Donghyun Kang of KSU in the Journal of Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology 6 (1998) 59-66.

Randall Phebus, James L. Marsden and Abbey L. Nutsch, Kansas State, conducted a one-day symposium on microbiological control at the carcass level and impact on ground beef safety for an international audience of Burger King suppliers and auditors in May in Miami.

Randall Phebus, Kansas State, won the KSU Gamma Sigma Delta Early Career Award of Merit for contributions to food safety research.

Abbey L. Nutsch, Randall Phebus, M.J. Riemann, John S. Kotrola, R.C. Wilson, J.E. Boyer Jr. and Ted L. Brown, Kansas State, co-authored "Steam Pasteurization of Commercially Slaughtered Beef Carcasses: Evaluation of Bacterial Populations at Five Anatomical Locations" in the Journal of Food Protection 61: 571-577.

Dong Ahn, Dennis G. Olson, J.L. Lee, C. Jo, X. Chen, and C. Wu, Iowa State, co-authored "Packaging and Irradiation Effects on Lipid Oxidation and Volatiles in Pork Patties" in the Journal of Food Science 63: 15-19. Ahn, Olson, Jo, Chen, Wu and Lee also co-authored "Effect of Muscle Type, Packaging and Irradiation on Lipid Oxidation, Volatile Production and Color in Raw Pork Patties" in Meat Science 49: 27-39.

Helen Jensen, Iowa State; Laurian J. Unnevehr, University of Illinois, and Miguel I. Gomez presented a paper on "Costs of Improving Food Safety in the Meat Sector" at the Southern Agricultural Economics Association in February in Little Rock, Ark. Jensen also delivered a presentation on "Health Costs From Foodborne Illness" at the Meat and Poultry Irradiation Short Course in May at Iowa State.

James Denton, Arkansas, represented the FSC during the National Associaton of Strate Universities and Land-Grant Colleges reception in May in Washington. Denton also participated in discussions on the formation of the National Alliance for Food Safety in June in Detroit. He served as co-chair of the NAFS Writing Committee which presented the draft of the organization's white paper.

Amy Waldroup, Arkansas, spoke on "Chemical Treatment of Raw Poultry" at the International Salmonella Symposium in Baltimore. Waldroup also received a $20,000 research grant from Los Alamos Technical Associates.

Waldroup also scheduled five training sessions for elementary school teachers in Arkansas as part of the state's Operation Food Safety project. The curriculum will be evaluated and modifications will be incorporated. Waldroup was also interviewed on Little Rock radio about Operation Food Safety.

Mike Johnson and Rama Nannapaneni, Arkansas, received a two-year $46,000 research grant from the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association for "Concurrent Detection of Foodborne Pathogens."

Zeliha Yildirim and Mike Johnson, Arkansas, co-authored "Detection and Characterization of a Bacteriocin Produced by Lactococcus lactis subsp. Cremoris R Isolated From Radish" in Letters in Applied Microbiology 26 (No. 4, April): 297-304.

Food Safety Digest

By Dave Edmark

Anyone who keeps up with food safety issues eventually reads a version of this phrase in a newspaper: "About 9,000 Americans die every year from food poisoning." The statement often carries no attribution. What's the source of this figure?

Dan Wilson, a reporter for the Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent wondered and began searching. In the May-June edition of the Columbia Journalism Review, he reported his findings in an article entitled "Food Poisonings' Phony Figure."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the original source of the estimates. A team of CDC researchers, headed by John Bennett, developed "best estimates" of actual cases of various infectious diseases. In 1994, the literature on the topic was reviewed in a report entitledFoodborne Pathogens: Risks and Consequences, produced by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) in Ames, Iowa. CAST selected research efforts by Dr. Ewen Todd, a microbiologist, and Dr. John Bennett, a medical doctor, as being the best available estimates. Todd's research estimated there were more than 12 million annual cases of foodborne illnesses resulting in 522 deaths. Bennett's estimates came out at more than 6 million illnesses but almost 9,000 deaths.

The CAST report's findings said, "A comprehensive system of assessing the risks of human illness from microbial pathogens in the food supply has yet to be devised. Although the microbial foodborne disease burden of the United States is not known with accuracy, estimates from the literature indicate and the general consensus of CAST task force members is that cases likely range from 6.5 million to 33 million annually and that deaths may be as high as 9,000 annually." The 9,000 figure has been used repeatedly in news accounts since then.

Wilson noticed that Bennett's estimates were much higher than CDC's record of recorded deaths related to food poisoning. He asked for some clarification from Dr. Tanya Roberts, the co chairman of the CAST task force. The reported cases are only a small fraction of the actual cases of foodborne disease.

Roberts, a senior economist with the USDA Economic Research Service, noted she said in the CAST news release that there were probably up to 9,000 deaths a year. She told Wilson that although she leans toward Bennett's higher number rather than Todd's, she realizes the truth may be somewhere in between. "Until we do a good analysis I would say we don't know for sure," Roberts said.

Roberts later wrote a letter to CJR to elaborate on aspects of the subject not included in the article and to take issue with the characterization of the figure in the magazine's headline as "phony."

Roberts' letter included the following passage from the 1994 CAST report in reference to Bennett's and Todd's studies: "The recent publications of Bennett et al. (1987) and Todd (1989a, 1989b) estimated most known foodborne disease cases and are selected for discussion here. These publications contain estimates that are not at the high or low ends of the ranges and generally are considered by CAST task force members to be estimates based on defensible assumptions. Researchers at the CDC estimated morbidity and mortality for all infectious and parasitic diseases (Bennett et al., 1987), of which 17 were identified as foodborne diseases in whole or in part. They used CDC surveillance and outbreak data, published reports, and expert opinion to estimate overall incidence and case-fatality ratio for each pathogen. The proportion spread by food was estimated for illnesses caused by each pathogen, and that estimate was used to allot cases and deaths to foodborne vehicles. The incidence of symptomatic illness from foodborne microorganisms was estimated at 6.5 million cases annually in the United States, with about 9,000 deaths."

Roberts' letter also noted that the activation of FoodNet, which began in 1995, will provide improved estimates of foodborne illnesses and deaths. FoodNet is a collaborative project of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC to monitor illnesses and deaths in five states.

"Just because numbers are estimates (especially when careful calculations are used that are made from the best available information) does not mean they are phony," Roberts wrote. "They should be treated as estimates and credit should be given for the research conducted to provide the greatest degree of accuracy possible. Dismissing estimates as phony without recognizing this effort would not be acceptable in the scientific review process nor should it be acceptable in journalism."

The CJR article, the 1994 CAST report and Roberts' letter are all on the web at

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