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FSIS Asks Researchers to Focus on Key Food Safety Issues

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has updated its list of priorities for food safety researchers in order to help advance the safety of U.S. meat and poultry.

While the agency doesn’t directly fund research, it hopes to encourage researchers who apply for grants from USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health or other funders to look into issues such as faster screening technology for pathogens, chemicals and drug and hormone compounds, alternative approaches to E. coli O157:H7 sampling and determining factors that contribute to antimicrobial-resistant strains of bacteria in poultry and cattle.

“Our goal is to effectively use science to understand foodborne illness and emerging trends,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. “External research is critical to our public health mission and ultimately serves as another tool at our disposal to protect the food supply for over 300 million Americans.”

The agency listed nearly two dozen topics it would like to see explored (click here for a full list). The list includes questions about whether a significant amount of chemicals – such as endocrine disruptors – leach from packaging into FSIS-regulated products and evaluating how effective combinations of pre- or pos-harvest interventions are.

Yesterday, FSIS highlighted currently funded research that supports the agency’s priorities, including a five-year, $25 million grant that NIFA funded this year that encompasses 10 universities and 14 lead researchers studying Shiga-toxin producing E. coli. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service also launched project looking at the “factors that enable strains of Salmonella in ground turkey to induce foodborne illness.”

FSIS said it maintains an internal panel – with representatives from all agency disciplines – to work on the list of research of priorities to help keep up with emerging threats and fill research gaps. The panel meets every six months, solicits updates from program areas and stakeholders and then votes on updates to the priorities list, according to the agency. FSIS released an official research priorities list for the first time in its history in December 2011.

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