Arkansas researchers part of USDA-AFRI nationwide project

Feb. 16, 2012
Contact Information:

Steven Ricke, Center for Food Safety
479-575-4678 / sricke@uark.edu

Dave Edmark, Agricultural Communication Services
479-575-6940 / dedmark@uark.edu

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Two researchers at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Center for Food Safety are leading a significant component of a federal research grant in which several universities seek to reduce the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) along the entire beef production pathway.

Steven Ricke, director of the Center for Food Safety, and Fred Pohlman, professor of animal science and a faculty member of the Center, will lead the research into one of the grant's five objectives. The objective being investigated by Arkansas will explore interventions for seven STEC serotypes.

The Arkansas work is part of a $25 million multidisciplinary grant awarded Jan. 23 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) through its Agriculture and Food Release Initiative (AFRI). The University of Nebraska is the lead institution. The overall project aims to improve risk management and assessment of eight strains of STEC in beef, including the O104 strain that caused a recent outbreak in Germany. The project will focus on identifying hazards and assessing exposure that lead to STEC infections in cattle and on developing strategies to detect, characterize and control the pathogens along the beef chain.

Research teams in addition to those from Arkansas and Nebraska are from Kansas State University, the University of California-Davis, University of California-Tulare, University of Delaware, New Mexico State University, North Carolina State University, Texas A&M University, Virginia Tech University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and a research consortium of government, academic and industry scientists and food safety professionals.

“I am very excited to see the Division of Agriculture be a part of this high profile NIFA project and glad to see collaborations develop across departmental lines. STEC is a big food safety issue and I am sure Drs. Pohlman and Ricke will make great contributions to the overall project," said Jean-Francois Meullenet, head of the Department of Food Science.

Michael Looper, head of the Department of Animal Scence, said, “This integrated research project will continue to ensure the U.S. has the safest beef supply in the world. I am pleased that faculty in the Division of Agriculture are recognized as experts in the food safety area and their work will ultimately impact people’s daily lives.”

At Arkansas, Pohlman and Ricke will serve as co-principal investigators and will collaborate on all aspects of microbial testing on the effectiveness of antimicrobials.

“This project, for the first time, will take a comprehensive look at the beef processing chain and identify risks associated with the major STECs and develop technologies to best deal with and alleviate those risks," Pohlman said. "Never before has such a group of researchers, industry partners, affiliated industries, trade associations and regulatory agencies been assembled to tackle such an issue.”

“Our research group is excited about the opportunity to work with pathogenic E. coli and apply what we have learned from other foodborne pathogens," Ricke added.

Ricke brings expertise in several areas to the project, including rumen microbiology and ecology, multiple hurdle intervention design for post-harvest and post-harvest microbial ecology and genetics. Pohlman's areas of expertise are meat processing and handling techniques, food safety, animal finishing, lean meat quality and yield and meat palatability.

“As non-O157 STEC bacteria have emerged and evolved, so too must our regulatory policies to protect the public health and ensure the safety of our food supply," said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting NIFA director. "This research will help us to understand how these pathogens travel throughout the beef production process and how outbreaks occur, enabling us to find ways to prevent illness and improve the safety of our nation’s food supply.”