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Enhancing Microbial Food Safety by Risk Analysis

Waite-Cusic, Joy
Oregon State University
Start date
End date
Risk Assessment: Assess food safety risks in agriculture systems.
Risk Management: Develop science-based interventions to prevent and mitigate food safety threats.
Risk Communication: Communicate food safety messages to stakeholders.
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NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Foodborne illness remains a significant public health problem in the United States with an estimated 48 million cases and cost of $89 billion annually. Research conducted under this program will lead to a better understanding of food contamination and will investigate and validate solutions for producing and processing safer foods. Due to the complexity of food products and its desired end use, production and processing interventions will be specific and tailored to individual commodities or categories. Food safety research projects will be varied in their methodology depending on the required research for the commodity or food category. In general, prevalence studies and validation studies will focus on detecting and inactivating Salmonella and other foodborne pathogens. Prevalence studies will utilize the statistical and microbiological approaches to identify likelihood and quantity of contamination in specific food commodities. Inactivation and process validation studies will quantify the efficacy of specific process to reduce contamination levels while retaining maximum product quality. Results from these studies will be communicated directly to the stakeholders that will benefit from implementing risk and reduction strategies. Implementation of effective interventions will lead to the production of safer food products which will improve the overall public health.

APPROACH: 1. Assessment of food safety risks in agricultural systems. The long-term goals of this objective include (i) evaluation and modeling the relationship between environmental parameters and indicator organisms to the levels of pathogenic microorganisms; (ii) understanding prevalence and frequencies of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance within the environment, food products and food production processing, distributions and consumer systems; (iii) persistence, dissemination and traceability of the microorganisms within the environment, food products and food production processing, distributions and consumer systems. Evaluate and model the relationship between environmental parameters and indicator/index organisms to the levels of pathogenic microorganisms. Critical to the development of risk-based approaches to food safety is the understanding of how pathogenic microorganism's presence/numbers relate to easy-to-measure physicochemical and microbial indicators. Currently employed standards throughout the food production and manufacturing sectors involve the frequent sampling for various indicator or index organisms. However, while dogma dictates that changes in indicators or indexes result in an increased risk for a product, very little published literature on this topic is available. One of the drawbacks of testing for pathogens or microbial indicators is the interval between testing and the time of result. In many instances, this time delay can range anywhere from 12 to 120 h depending on target organism(s) that are being detected. Obviously the long detection times preclude testing from being used in real time. To address these issues, we propose to evaluate and model these relationships using available and emerging technologies. Understanding prevalence and frequencies of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance within the environment, food products and food production processing, distributions and consumer systems. Also vital to the success of any risk assessment is a comprehensive perception of both concentration and distribution of risk factors, including foodborne pathogens and presence of antimicrobial resistance genes. Much of the currently available prevalence data is lacking critical concentration data, which while difficult to determine, is an essential piece of any risk assessment. Also commonly overlooked are the potential spatial-temporal population differences that may exist across the US, and offer a unique niche for PIs collaborating on this project to evaluate. These spatial patterns that exist along the farm-to-fork continuum provide insight into current relative risk of food products and production environments, and are a critical starting point against which all risk reduction attempts can be bench-marked. Statistically-sound sampling methods and sample sizes are of fundamental importance to all studies. These issues will be addressed by our plan to evaluate frequencies and concentrations of pathogens and antimicrobial-resistance genes and identify production, manufacturing, distribution or consumer management practices that improve public health by reducing these risks. Persistence, dissemination and traceability of the microorganisms and antimicrobial resistance within the environment, food products and food processing, distribution, and consumer systems. In addition to understanding relationships between indicator organisms and pathogens, and concentration/frequencies of risk factors during food production, of crucial importance is an understanding of how risk factors can vary from the time a food product is conceived to consumption by a consumer, and how typical industry or consumer practices and handling can influence these risks. While a significant amount of data exists for some commodities, others remain relatively understudied, and handling practices are continually evolving with the industry. For data that do exist, a systematic review to identify critical data gaps and extraction of data for inclusion into comprehensive risk assessments is an opportunity for PIs of this project. While the term "cross-contamination" is often used, and the principle of prevention of cross-contamination taught to all facets of the industry, data to model and understand the fundamental mechanism of cross-contamination, and elucidate novel prevention strategies are lacking. Our strategy to tackle this concern rests in our multidisciplinary, systems approach of critical data gap identification, data generation, and modeling of multiple commodity, production, process, distribution and consumption patterns. 2. Develop science-based interventions to prevent and mitigate food safety threats. This section describes current and planned activities/methods related to the management of microbiological risks associated with foods arising from significant points along the food production and process continuum (e.g., "farm-to-fork"). Major food commodity groups are identified, along with their interaction(s) with novel intervention strategies, and food safety diagnostic technologies. The ultimate goal of these activities is to lower or reduce pathogens in foods and thus concurrently lower risks of foodborne disease. Risk Mitigation. For foods that are processed, the development and validation of novel processing technologies will lead to reduced risk of the production of contaminated foods. Ongoing studies include, but are not limited to, those related to high pressure processing (HHP), UV, ozone, electrolyzed water, bacteriophages, peracetic acid, essential oils, and value-added packaging, alone or in combination, as methods to mitigate food safety risks on various food commodities. 3. Communicate food safety messages to stakeholders. Effective communication is critical to incite behavior and management changes towards a safer food supply. Instead of relying solely on passive diffusion of information through the publication of Fact Sheets and peer-reviewed journal articles, and presentations, herein we propose to use two-way exchanges of information between stakeholders and researchers to tailor risk management messages for each specific audience. Multiple criteria will be used to evaluate and assess message content and media. The efficacy of these messages to result in measurable changes in behavior and tangible impacts on food contamination will be evaluated. Based on stakeholder feedback and the assessed success or limitations of various communication strategies, changes will be made to outreach approaches to meet specific audience needs. Risk avoidance messages should be based on data. Some of the data to support the risk message content will be derived from the research of this program. However, it is equally important information from other multi-state groups, and other individuals, both nationally and internationally, be included in crafting appropriate messages and determining the best route for message delivery. We anticipate that each stakeholder will require unique combinations of specific information, and route of delivery (print, electronic, presentations, etc.). PIs of this group have partnerships and collaborations with a wide variety of stakeholder groups situated at all levels of the farm to table food production continuum. Targeted stakeholders include producers, processors, retailers, food service, and consumers.

Funding Source
Nat'l. Inst. of Food and Agriculture
Project source
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Project number
Accession number
Sanitation and Quality Standards
Bacterial Pathogens
Food Defense and Integrity
Natural Toxins
Risk Assessment, Management, and Communication