<OL> <LI> Foster research synergy through multidisciplinary collaboration; <LI> Integrate project themes to maximize research relevance; <LI> Maximize the use of existing research resources; <LI> Bridge research findings with real-world applications; <LI> Respond to emerging challenges and opportunities;<LI> Provide a recognized research resource to support state and federal agencies investigating food-related disease outbreaks.
Food-borne pathogens are a major cause of human morbidity and mortality worldwide. In the United States acute gastroenteritis is the second most common household illness and more than 70 million food-related illnesses are estimated to occur each year. Although the majority of these bouts of gastroenteritis resolve spontaneously without medical assistance, these illnesses result in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. The cumulative societal cost of medical expenses, lost wages, and productivity profoundly effect our economy. Heightened public awareness has prompted the U.S. government to launch a number of food safety initiatives. Embracing a farm-to-table approach, these initiatives have sought to improve the safety of the nation's food supply. The overall goal of the proposed effort is to develop a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team of collaborating researchers, the Food Safety Research Response Network (FSRRN), to tackle the most challenging pre-harvest food safety problems. Fundamental studies are proposed that build on the on-going work already being conducted in the laboratories of team members, but take advantage of the cooperative interaction of investigators with varied expertise. The FSRRN will integrate ideas and resources with the intent of developing practical applications and recommendations that will minimize the effect of pre-harvest pathogens on consumer health. Funded initiatives will be truly be multi-institutional and build on existing strengths and funding. Projects initiated by the FSRRN will take advantage of the collective expertise of the team and address issues that could not be effectively addressed by a single investigator. Research initiatives undertaken by the team will also attempt to provide a clear path to potential strategies that can be used to understand the basic biology of pre-harvest pathogens, reduce the pre-harvest presence of pathogens, or manage their continued presence in a manner that minimizes their effect on human health.
Historically, food safety research has been undertaken in Food Science departments, with specific discipline-driven projects and a largely post-harvest focus. Due to the recent emergence of pathogens that originate during food production (e.g., enterohemorrhagic E. coli, Campylobacter spp., among others), research focus has expanded to include both pre- and post-harvest food safety considerations. Although epidemiologists have long recognized the "trinity" of factors (i.e., (i) the pathogen; (ii) the host; and (iii) the environment) that influence the occurrence of food-related illness they have just begun to work effectively with microbiologists, ecologists, and geneticists to characterize the ecology of pathogens on the farm. Despite these efforts, food safety research remains a largely uncoordinated effort conducted by individual investigators. To maximize the potential to effectively address pre-harvest food-safety issues a multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional team of investigators has been assembled to cooperatively conduct food-safety research targeted to address complex issues that are beyond the scope of an individual investigator or laboratory.
The role of the pre-harvest production environment in food safety is complex, and no single investigator has the expertise to tackle the major food safety issues that pose a risk to the public's health. In this proposal we will address relevant pre-harvest food-safety issues that pose a risk to the public's health by: 1) Building a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional team of more than 50 researchers from 17 academic institutions collaborations; 2) Integrating project themes to maximize research relevance. Four research themes identified at a colloquium of food-safety researchers held in Perthshire, Colloquium in December 2003, will drive initial FSRRN efforts to identify viable intervention strategies to reduce the impact of pathogens in the production environment on human health. These themes include: a) the Public Health Impact of Pre-Harvest Food Safety Pathogens; b) the Microbial Ecology of Pre-harvest Food Safety Pathogens; c) the Detection, Surveillance and Risk Assessment of Pre-Harvest Food-Safety Pathogens; and d) the development of Cost-Effective Intervention Strategies For Pre-harvest Food Safety Pathogens. In this manner the research themes transverse the spectrum of concerns that need to be addressed to effectively understand the survival, proliferation, evolution and dissemination of pre-harvest food-safety pathogens. 3) Maximizing the use of existing Resources; 4) Bridging basic and applied science: 5) Retaining research orientation flexibility by continually reevaluating what we know, and challenging ourselves to respond with strategic advantage to new ideas that offer promise for reducing the effect of pre-harvest food safety pathogens on human health. An external advisory board representing our stakeholders will help ensure our work is relevant to the general public; and 6) Establishing a pre-harvest food-safety research response team to support the response activities of other agencies to large-scale or unusual episodes of food-related illness. A repetitive systematic review of public health relevance of projects will provide a framework for continual reevaluation and refinement of project ideas to ensure that the FSRRN stays focused on it's primary commitment of reducing the risk of human illness associated with pre-harvest pathogens.