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Advisory Committee Working on the Science of Salmonella, STEC

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-escherichia-coli-image11263977When the government needs help with a foodborne issue, they turn to a certain committee for scientific advice.

In its last term, the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Foods (NACMCF) worked on how to reduce Norovirus infections and to help the Department of Defense ensure that the food procured for U.S. military personnel is safe.

Salmonella and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) are the committee’s charges in its new two-year term to last through 2017.

Salmonella is estimated to cause 1 million illnesses in the U.S. each year. With the ultimate goal of reducing that number, NACMCF is tasked with answering questions about the virulence of strains, the contamination and processing of poultry, and what could be done to reduce Salmonella infections.

The Salmonella working group is led by Guy Loneragan of Texas Tech University and Gary Acuff of Texas A&M University.

Determining which E. coli are pathogenic is very tricky business. Of the 300-400 known STEC serotypes, about 100 have been reported to cause human illnesses.

The STEC working group, chaired by Alison O’Brien of Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and Carolyn Hovde of the University of Idaho, will try to answer questions about virulence (e.g., what defines or differentiates STEC as a human pathogen from other STEC that are under-represented in severe illnesses?), detection methods, and the data gaps which keep us from being able to determine the probability that a particular STEC isolate is highly virulent to humans.

During the first full committee meeting of the 2015-2017 session on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015, Brian Ronholm, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety and NACMCF chair, said that the committee exists because “there are no easy answers to complex problems.”

The work the committee does gets “directly applied and put to use in the federal government,” Ronholm said.

Susan Mayne, director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and NACMCF vice-chair, said that the members of the current committee come from academia, industry, consumer groups, and federal and state agencies.

Diversity is key to NACMCF’s success, she said, calling it “a really strong vehicle for external advice.”

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