Industry News
Jan. 1, 2009

Special feature: Salmonella, Listeria findings among latest food safety research highlights
By Ann Bagel Storck on 1/1/2009

The past year brought plenty of food safety challenges for the meat and poultry industries, but there was progress made as well, and 2009 promises unique considerations such as the struggling economy and President-elect Barack Obama's priorities, according to two experts with the Food Safety Consortium.

The FSC is a research alliance of the University of Arkansas, Kansas State University and Iowa State University. Its work is supported by a special research grant approved by Congress and administered by USDA. Arkansas concentrates on poultry research, Iowa State on pork and Kansas State on beef. Each university supervises several separate research projects with its share of the grant funds.

Steven Ricke, director of the University of Arkansas Center for Food Safety and manager of the FSC program at the school, and Michael Johnson, professor of food science at the University of Arkansas, addressed some of their top food safety accomplishments of 2008 and goals for the coming year. What are some of the main lessons you hope the meat and poultry industries have learned from some of 2008's biggest food safety challenges, such as Maple Leaf Foods' Listeria outbreak and ongoing concerns about E. coli-related recalls?

JOHNSON: The biggest lesson common to both of those events is that a food safety problem can occur anywhere in the food processing and utilization chain from farm to fork. What is some of the FSC research underway now that you're most excited about?

RICKE: Our research groups determined that lower concentrations of organic acids during poultry processing disrupted Salmonella Typhimurium biofilm formation. Limiting biofilms increased the effectiveness of antimicrobial treatments and, depending on the concentrations, led to bacterial death.

FSC research has revealed that protein synthesis occurs even during multiple nutrient starvation of Listeria monocytogenes. This is of practical importance to the industry because we now know that nutrient availability within the food production environment will impact the pathogen's ability to survive and remain an ongoing contamination threat.

Administration of anti-Campylobacter bacteriocins — proteins produced naturally by other bacteria — prevented colonization of Campylobacter in young commercial turkeys.

We are also beginning a food safety research project on pasture-raised and organic poultry. We plan to write guidelines for Good Agricultural Practices — a recognized collection of principles for production and processing — for food safety on pasture-raised and organic poultry farms. The guidelines will focus on developing plans that are relevant to plants of particular sizes. What are the greatest food safety challenges facing the meat and poultry processing industries as 2009 is about to begin?

RICKE: Economics is probably the biggest issue currently along with the approaches and attitude towards agriculture in the new presidential administration. Until these elements are sorted out, everything else remains uncertain and fairly fluid. What are some changes you expect to see regarding food safety policies as the Obama administration takes over in Washington?

RICKE: We won't know until the economy issues are somewhat resolved. These will impact budgetary decisions on agricultural policies such as trade and regulatory issues. What is your biggest food safety goal for 2009?

RICKE: Reduced numbers of foodborne illness outbreaks associated with our commodity meat groups.