- The Food Safety Consortium Newsletter
- Vol. 12, No. 1
- Winter 2002
Now the News: Media Coverage Spotlights Irradiation
Universities All in Top 10
Favored, but Cautiously
From the Coordinator
Sets 22nd Rapid Methods Symposium
Web Site Offers HACCP Aid to Plants
Named Dean at UA
Establishes Food Science Institute
- And Now the News: Media Coverage Spotlights
- Irradiation, a technology that
is still garnering acceptance among food marketers and consumers,
is mostly getting pretty good press, according to a University
of Arkansas survey. The procedure, which ensures pathogen-free
meat and poultry products through the use of electronic pasteurization,
still is not widely applied to products in the grocery stores.
Articles in newspapers and magazines and reports on broadcast
news media can help shape public opinion on topical issues. The
UA study shows that positive messages about irradiation are being
communicated in news reports and that negative comments about
the procedure are frequently countered in those same reports.
"I hope we can provide information to the food industry
on how they communicate their message and how effectively it's
getting across through the news media," said Mike Thomsen,
an assistant professor of agricultural economics who is coordinating
the project for the Food Safety Consortium. "We want to
provide information on what concerns consumers have through their
media consumption habits and whether those concerns are being
To find out where the message has been going, the researchers
found 411 reports from 1991 to 2001 that at least mentioned irradiation
from selected newspapers and broadcast networks. The reports
include news stories primarily about irradiation and stories
on other subjects in which irradiation was mentioned. Editorial
page items such as opinion columns and letters to the editor
were not included.
The survey covered nine major newspapers: The Christian Science
Monitor, The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post,
The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the
San Francisco Chronicle, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times. Broadcast
news report transcripts were obtained for ABC News, CBS News,
NBC News, CNN, National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour.
In 62 percent of the articles and broadcasts, the reports contained
the statement or concept that irradiation helps control harmful
pathogens. Forty-five percent of the reports stated that credible
authorities have concluded that irradiation is safe. Irradiation's
tendency to improve shelf life was mentioned in 19 percent of
There were negative messages about irradiation that appeared
in news reports. Twenty-one percent of the reports said irradiation
was harmful and left harmful residuals in food, a statement that
was countered with contrary comments in 11 percent of the reports.
Fifteen percent of the reports contained contentions that irradiation
adversely affects nutritional content, an assertion that was
countered in 9 percent of the reports.
Some negative statements also appeared in the reports without
rebutting comments. Those include expression of consumer groups'
concerns over the safety of irradiated foods in 23 percent of
the articles and statements that consumer acceptance remains
a major barrier to the marketing of irradiated foods in 17 percent
of the reports.
"Both advocates and opponents of the technology will communicate
through the media," Thomsen said. "Statements in the
reports come across in terms of background information. The reporter
has gathered information and asked someone for their position.
The reporter is the filter through which the lay reader learns
the basics of irradiation."
Coverage of irradiation issues is still an occasional occurrence.
The survey showed that articles and broadcasts remained at low
levels each year during the decade, except for a spike in 1997.
That was shortly after the Food and Drug Administration gave
final regulatory approval to the use of irradiation on red meat,
which prompted more stories than usual about the technology and
its possible adoption in the marketplace.
- FSC Universities All in the Top 10
- All three universities in the
Food Safety Consortium are ranked in the top 10 meat and poultry-related
programs as compiled by the Nov. 1 edition of Meat and Poultry
Iowa State University was ranked second, Kansas State University
was ranked third and the University of Arkansas was fifth. The
magazine reached its findings by conducting informal surveys
of professionals in all segments of the industry.
"What we found is that a handful of universities have established
reputations within the industry for supplying a steady stream
of quality students, while also offering low-cost problem solving
services," the magazine said.
The magazine cited Iowa State, which emphasizes pork, for its
programs in animal science, meat science and food science and
human nutrition as well as its maintenance of seven swine farms
for research projects.
"The college's meat lab is complemented by extensive harvest
and processing facilities for both red meat and poultry,"
the magazine said. "The lab is equipped with an electron
beam irradiation system and features pathogen isolation capabilities,
which are unique in university settings."
Kansas State, which emphasizes beef, was noted as a "widely
regarded top-notch institution for students pursuing a career
in any facet of the meat and poultry processing industry."
The magazine recognized KSU's animal science program and the
university's "well-documented thrust in the arenas of research
KSU is home of the Kansas Value-Added Thermal Processing Laboratory
for research, teaching extension activities in food science and
engineering, which the magazine recognized as "demonstrating
its commitment to the industry."
Arkansas, which the magazine pointed out is "located in
Tyson Foods' backyard," emphasizes poultry and "has
a reputation for producing quality graduatres with a solid poultry
background," particularly because of its Center of Excellence
for Poultry Science. But agricultural administrators at Arkansas
also seek to "avoid being lumped into just one segment of
The magazine listed Arkansas'slaughtering facilities for beef,
lamb and pork as well as its poultry processing facilities. The
poultry science, animal science and food science departments'
program were recognized for providing diverse opportunites in
The Meat and Poultry Top 10
1. Texas A&M
2. Iowa State
3. Kansas State
4. Colorado State
7. Virginia Tech
8. Penn State
9. Ohio State
10. Oklahoma State
- Irradiation Favored, but Cautiously
- Consumers are largely leaning
toward acceptance of irradiation of meat products, but they are
still showing caution in their attitudes.
Some of the apprehension boils down to the terminology and knowledge
of irradiation, said Michael Boland, a Food Safety Consortium
researcher at Kansas State University where he is an associate
professor of agricultural economics. Irradiation exposes food
to radiant energy to destroy pathogenic bacteria throughout the
surface and interior of a food product. A KSU survey conducted
showed that 60 percent of the participating consumers were willing
to purchase irradiated beef burgers or ground beef if they cost
the same as nonirradiated. There is more behind the numbers,
Among those willing to buy irradiated meat are older consumers,
families with children under 18 at home and people with at least
a college education. "This suggests that education efforts
of food irradiation should pay more attention to these subgroups
of consumers," Boland said.
The majority of those surveyed had heard about irradiation but
they did not know much about it. Before hearing an explanation
of irradiation's benefits and ability to wipe out pathogens from
processed meat, 51 percent of the participants had positive attitudes
toward irradiation and 44 percent were negative.
The 44 percent negative figure was probably influenced by the
word "irradiation," Boland said. "When you start
looking at things like pasteurization, people have a different
attitude about pasteurization versus irradiation. I think it's
more of a reaction against the word itself."
More than half of the respondents said they would be willing
to pay a higher price for irradiated meat - 42 percent would
pay an additional 3 to 4 cents a pound and 11 percent would pay
5 cents or more a pound. Boland said the results from hypothetical
questions of consumers in Manhattan, Kan., matches the results
coming in from markets where irradiated beef is available.
"Sales are increasing," he said. "You can look
at Minnesota, California and the East Coast. The volume keeps
going up. And the irradiated meat was priced pretty high at 4,
5 or 6 cents more a pound. People are in fact paying more and
the volume keeps going up. People are clearly voting with their
Boland predicted that irradiated meats will become more prevalent
on the market because the technology will assure safe meat is
on the shelf. "We're really moving toward a food system
that's going to have audits," he said. "One audit is
going to determine if a product is safe and what's the pathogen
count. So you're going to have to use something like irradiation."
A survey with responses from 136 restaurant owners in Kansas
registered sentiments similar to those of consumers, with 53
percent of them willing to buy irradiated hamburger for use in
their establishments. Of those willing to buy the product, 54
percent were willing to pay more for it while 38 percent were
However, Boland noted, "they were willing to buy it but
they don't want to label it. They don't want the onus of having
on their menus something that says this hamburger has been irradiated.
They were very clear with us that they didn't want to deal with
labeling because they're still not sure if people are going to
Both consumers and restaurant owners were also positive toward
steam pasteurization of meat once the process was explained to
them. Steam pasteurization in meat processing plants involves
the use of high-temperature steam to kill pathogens on the surface
of the meats. As with irradiation, restaurant owners did not
wish to label their meats on their menus as steam pasteurized.
- Report From the Coordinator
- By Gregory J. Weidemann
- Researchers are known for being
a methodical and deliberate group. They are not likely to run
with a project that hasn't been thoroughly analyzed for its worth
and relevance. They generally steer clear of anything that looks
like a passing fad.
Although the prospect of bioterrorism endangering our food supply
is definitely a current hot topic, it is not a whim of the moment.
The subject has been receiving thoughtful and determined reviews
during recent months. It is a noteworthy component of food safety
Government officials are warning us to beware of the introduction
of infectious disease into animals. Charles Beard, vice president
of research and technology for the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association,
validated that cautionary advice with this comment: "Without
outlining how it can be done, just trust me when I say that a
bioterrorist animal disease attack can be accomplished cheaply,
quickly and efficiently."
The point of biosecurity measures, Beard explained, is not necessarily
to prevent an attack but to help confine the disease to the location
where it was introduced before it has a chance to spread. He
called on the poultry industry to fix any laxness at the front
end. "Only we can fix this biosecurity problems; not the
USDA and not the Department of Defense."
Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman assured us that USDA is doing
its part by placing inspectors on high alert at ports of entry
and food processing plants and by cooperating with other federal
agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
University researchers are doing their part across the country.
The National Biosecurity Resource Center for Animal Health Emergencies
recently set up operations at Purdue University to provide resources
for government, producers, veterinarians and others to learn
about science-based biosecurity procedures.
Food Safety Consortium researchers will have biosecurity on
their agendas over the coming years. Our research projects tend
toward the long term, but they are based on contemporary problems.
Any aspect of food safety being considered in research problems
will need to address the issues of biosecurity to be complete.
Consumers, industry and government regulators will insist on
Protection of public health has long been the bottom line of
the Food Safety Consortium's work. We have emphasized repeatedly
the need for collaboration of parties with different areas of
expertise. Quickly conceived measures will safeguard us for the
short run, but new research efforts will bolster our safety for
the long term. There is never any better time to begin than the
- KSU Sets 22nd Rapid Methods Symposium
- Registrations are being accepted
for Kansas State University's 22nd International Workshop and
Symposium on Rapid Methods and Automation in Microbiology, which
will be held July 12 to 19 in Manhattan, Kan. Daniel Fung, a
Food Safety Consortium researcher at KSU, is director of the
Registration fees for the workshop and symposium are $1,795.
Fees for the symposium only (July 12-13) are $450. A detailed
description of the program is on line at http://www.dce.ksu.edu/dce/cl/microbiology/index.html.
For registration information, contact Bettie Minshell at 1-800-432-8222
(from outside the U.S., call 785-532-5575) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For scientific information, contact Fung at 785-532-5654 or email@example.com.
- ISU Web Site Offers HACCP Aid to Plants
- Small meat-processing plants
are expected to devise and implement systems for inspecting their
products for contaminants, just as the largest companies do.
Federal law requires them to write Hazard Analysis and Critical
Control Point (HACCP) plans that document how their personnel
will intervene at key points in processing to reduce pathogenic
bacteria. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture has final say
on accepting the plan that essentially allows the plant to operate.
It's a more daunting task for the small plants to perform as
they often lack the substantial in-house resources that much
larger competitors have to develop these detailed plans. So now
help is on the Web.
Processors wondering where to start can begin with the Iowa
State University HACCP demonstration site on line at http://www.iowahaccp.iastate.edu.
Developed as a Food Safety Consortium project, the site contains
plans developed at ISU's meat lab that small businesses can use
as models for writing similar plans tailored to their own plants.
"It has a lot of transferability to any place in the U.S.
The regulations are very similar," said Jim Huss, the project
director and an FSC researcher at ISU. "We are using this
as a model because eventually the work we are doing could help
school food service managers who are struggling with how to put
HACCP into their operations. They could go to a site very much
like this and get the resources and tools that they need."
That's a project for the future, but for now the plant processors
can log on to sample plans developed by Joe Cordray and Gustavo
Gonzalez of the ISU animal science department. The plans cover
beef, lamb, pork, poultry, raw ground meat, fully cooked meat
products and heat-treated meat products. Each plan contains a
product description, a process flow diagram, hazard assessments,
identification of critical limits, recordkeeping and verification
procedures, a slaughter training and observation log and HACCP
Huss noted that on-line lessons for training food service operators
in HACCP procedures are under development for the site. These
materials would complement the existing HACCP resources that
small processors have available.
To establish a similar resource for school food service operations,
ISU seeks to produce a site similar in detail and in volume of
information. Dan Henroid, a co-researcher with Huss in the web
project, said the goal is to produce a generic plan that any
school district in Iowa could adapt to the local circumstances,
no matter how large or small the school system is.
"We're meeting with people from the Department of Education
and the Department of Inspections and Appeals in Iowa to get
their feedback on the feasibility of these projects," Henroid
said. "At the very least we'll have HACCP plans up that
will be generic enough so that food service workers in schools,
hospitals and restaurants can use it. There will be some kind
of an interactive lesson that we would build on to it."
Food safety lessons for the general public continue to be offered
on line at another site maintained by ISU at http://www.extension.iastate.edu/foodsafety.
This site has attracted 750,000 page views over the past year
from 120 nations. The lessons available through the site recorded
35,000 scores from participants during the year, bringing the
total to 85,000 consumers who have completed one or more of the
four interactive food safety lessons.
The web site as well as compact discs produced by ISU provide
food safety training materials used by nutrition and health specialists
Huss said the researchers will explore the possibility of using
web sites to provide further education for food service employees.
Access to the Internet is limited among this group, according
to a survey taken by ISU, but the food service operators remained
open to finding ways to use the web for training lessons.
ISU also distributes bookmarks that list Consumer Control Points
for consumers to use in preparing food in the kitchen. The bookmarks
also list the web site address for additional information.
The food safety web site has garnered a list of awards from
around the nation, including recognition from U.S. News and
World Report On Line as Best of the Web for nutrition and
- Weidemann Named Dean at UA
- Gregory J. Weidemann, the coordinator
of the Food Safety Consortium and chair of the FSC Steering Committee,
has been named dean of the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural,
Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas and the
associate vice president for agriculture-research.
The appointment was announced Dec. 21 by U of A Chancellor
John White and U of A System Vice President for Agriculture Milo
Shult. The appointment became effective Jan. 1.
- Weidemann had served as interim
dean since January 2001. He had been associate director of the
Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station and associate dean of
Bumpers College since 1995.
Weidemann joined the U of A department of plant pathology in
1983. As a faculty member, he was internationally recognized
for research on plant-pathogenic fungi and received several teaching
awards, including the National Association of Colleges and Teachers
of Agriculture 1990 award of merit.
As an administrator, Weidemann provided leadership for the faculty
to plan and implement initiatives to restructure curricula and
programs and improve classrooms and research facilities statewide.
He has a bachelor's degree in zoology and a doctorate in plant
pathology from the University of Wisconsin.
Weidemann said, "Having served as the interim dean as well
as associate director over the past year, I am thrilled to have
the opportunity to continue to serve the faculty, staff and students
and our stakeholders throughout Arkansas.
"The partnership of Bumpers College and the Division of
Agriculture keeps us focused on the three-part land-grant university
mission of teaching, research and extension. Our students benefit
from having teachers who are deeply involved in research to solve
problems for agriculture, the environment, the food industry
and Arkansas communities and families."
- K-State Establishes Food Science Institute
- Kansas State University officials
have announced establishment of the Food Science Institute,
a move that meshes all of the current food science expertise
on the Manhattan campus. Curtis Kastner, the program director
of the Food Safety Consortium at KSU, will also serve as director
of the Institute.
The Institute will not include new facilities. Its staff will
work with existing faculty to accomplish the goals of the food
science program. The university is simply combining its existing
resources in education, research and extension, which will enhance
the coordination, visibility and capacity of food science programs,
"The Institute will facilitate food science programs across
the university," Kastner said. "These programs will
serve students, consumers, clientele in the food industry, the
scientific community and government agencies."
Centralizing many areas of expertise is a model that has worked
successfully at K-State in the past. Other examples include the
Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment,
the Plant Biotechnology Center and the Center for Sustainable
Agriculture and Alternative Crops.
"[The Food Science Institute] will allow K-State to hang
out a 'shingle' letting national food science associations, the
food industry and governmental agencies know that K-State has
a significant investment in food science and food safety,"
said Marc Johnson, director of K-State Research and Extension.
The university's current programs include food chemistry, human
nutrition and functional foods, food engineering, food microbiology
and food safety (both pre and post harvest), physical chemistry
and rheology, product development, sensory analysis, cereal science,
fruit and vegetable processing, dairy food technology, meat science,
poultry and egg science, food toxicology, and food service.
"The Institute will be able to represent all of these units
as a voice for Kansas State University food science," a
position that also will support grant-writing opportunities,
Kastner said the Institute is already fully established, with
an office in Waters Hall (room 148). The temporary telephone
number for the new office is 785-532-1234.
"We have several programs at Kansas State that are nationally
and internationally recognized in the industry; people do recognize
us as a national and international force," Kastner said.
"Plus, students who have been in our program are now out
in the work force. They portray Kansas State as a major player,
not only in how they represent Kansas State, but also in how
they do their jobs all over the world."
- Papers and Presentations
- Several Kansas State researchers
have collaborated to contribute a chapter to the textbook Meat
Science and Applications, which was published recently by
Marcel Dekker Inc. of New York. The chapter, titled "Meat
Safety," was authored by Daniel Fung, Maha Hajmeer, Curtis
Kastner, Justin Kastner, James Marsden, Karen Penner, Randall
Phebus, J. Scott Smith and Martha Vanier. The 34-page
chapter explores the current status of meat safety and new developments
in issues such as meat irradiation, dietary supplements, genetically
modified foods and consumers' knowledge and practices in meat
safety. It also includes a discussion of the history of meat
industry safety, microbiological hazards and rapid methods and
automation in microbiology testing related to monitoring microbial
meat safety. The chapter also has a detailed discussion of HACCP
and current regulatory policies and inspection. The chapter concludes
with a look into the future of meat safety and some speculations
of its needs and directions.
- Food Safety Digest
By Dave Edmark
- Europe is moving ahead with
plans to establish the European Food Authority, which would work
with its member nations' respective food agencies and be a source
of scientific guidance for policymakers. The European Parliament
voted to support creation of the agency, but details remained
to be worked out concerning selection of the EFA's headquarters
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health in London reported
remarks by David Byrne, European commissioner for health and
consumer protection, at a food safety conference in Berlin. Byrne
said, "Unprecedented waves of public concern have highlighted
the need for all those involved in producing, manufacturing or
supplying food, on the one hand, and the official bodies responsible
for regulating and controlling food safety standards, on the
other, to play their part I ensuring that the highest standards
are achieved and maintained."
Byrne said the European food supply is among the world's safest
and called for a greater emphasis "on an integrated and
comprehensive approach" throughout the production chain.
* * *
The U.S. and Mexico signed a cooperative food safety agreement
in September. The Food and Drug Administration will share with
Mexican government agencies information on the sources of fresh
produce. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service will work
with Mexican officials to ensure safety of meat, poultry and
eggs. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said
the agreement "recognizes the strong bond between Mexico
and the United States - a bond that is reflected in the enormous
increase int he trade of food commodities across our borders."
* * *
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
has prepared a report on "Product Liability and Microbial
Foodborne Illness" by Jean Buzby, Paul Frenzen and Barbara
Rasco. The report reviewed the outcomes of 175 jury trials involving
foodborne pathogens and identified factors that influenced those
Some of the key points in the study were:
· Litigation over microbial contamination of foods by
firms is limited because of the high costs caused by the complexity
and slow pace of the legal system. Some attorneys are unwilling
to take such cases.
· Plaintiffs are unlikely to win awards in foodborne
illness jury trials.
· Plaintiffs were more likely to win jury trials if they
could link their illness to a specific pathogen.
· The expected monetary compensation from a foodborne
illness lawsuit provides only limited incentives to pursue litigation.
· The legal system provides incentives, though limited,
for firms to produce safer food.
The study is ERS Agricultural Economic Report No. 799 and can
be downloaded from the World Wide Web at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer799/aer799.pdf.
* * *
Tyson Foods has released its annual food safety survey and reported
that 96 percent of consumers are concerned about food safety
and 83 percent believe they are knowledgeable on the subject.
But the responses also show that many consumers are not using
food safety practices in the kitchen.
Many consumers clean with dishcloths instead of safer paper
towels. Only one-third use thermometers to determine if meat
and poultry have been cooked to proper internal temperatures.
"Our annual survey helps us to realize that many consumers
still need to learn to be 'food wise' and follow proper food
handling procedures while cooking at home," said Dr. Neal
Apple, vice president for Tyson's corporate laboratory.
The survey was conducted by Caravan Opinion Research Corp. International.
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