K-State to play key role in beef safety research

News
Feb 17, 2012

Seventeen Kansas State University (K-State) scientists will join researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and other universities and government agencies in a coordinated, multi-pronged approach to improve the safety of beef.

The $25 million effort will focus on ways to reduce the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), a serious threat to the food supply that results in more than 265,000 infections in the U.S. each year.

Eating contaminated food or direct contact with fecal matter from infected cattle and other ruminants causes most of these illnesses.

The grant was awarded to UNL by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The team of 48 investigators will be led by UNL veterinary scientist Jim Keen.

“As a national leader in food safety research and education, Kansas State University is pleased to play a major role in a project so vital to the health of the American public,” said Kirk Schulz, K-State president. “As we work toward becoming a top 50 public research university, projects like these showcase our exceptional research track record in this area.”

Randy Phebus, K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, will join UNL’s Keen and three others on the overall project’s executive management team.

That team will oversee seven inter-related projects that span the five-year life of the grant.

“This USDA-NIFA coordinated agricultural program grant shines the light on UNL, K-State and our other collaborators across the country to address one of the most important issues facing the beef industry, Shiga toxin-producing E. coli pathogens, from the calf to the beef consumer,” Phebus said. “STEC management profoundly impacts every beef producer, processor and retailer and it is one of the most relevant public health threats in the food system. The research and education group that we have assembled is worldclass and we anticipate many successes during and after the life of this grant that can be practically applied for reducing STEC risks across the beef chain.”

In addition to his role on the management team, Phebus will lead a project focused on improving methods used to detect and control eight types of E. coli (STEC-8) that are most important to public health, including O157:H7, in postharvest beef processing.

The goal is to understand how STEC-8 behaves under different conditions in order to enhance beef processors’ food safety management systems. K-State’s unique Biosecurity Research Institute biocontainment research facility will provide the large-scale laboratory setting for much of this part of the project.

Daniel Thomson, Jones Professor of Production Medicine at K-State, feedlot veterinarian and director of the Beef Cattle Institute, will lead efforts establishing a holistic food safety culture across all sectors of the beef food chain. — WLJ

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