The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) has initiated a far-reaching project called the Salmonella Grand Challenge.

The endeavor unites a group of scientists from ARS, universities, and the food industry, each specializing in various fields, to combat Salmonella, a foodborne pathogen that infects a million Americans annually. The challenge aligns with the ongoing efforts of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to develop a more effective strategy for reducing human Salmonella illnesses associated with poultry.

The primary objective of ARS is to integrate its research and expand understanding of how and where Salmonella poses the highest risk of contamination in meat and poultry products. This knowledge will prove invaluable in developing enhanced monitoring tools for meat and poultry producers to detect Salmonella contamination.

Salmonella, the bacterium responsible for the illness known as salmonellosis, is present in nearly every corner of our environment — from animals (including pets) to food, water, soil, and even the air. Individuals infected with Salmonella experience a range of symptoms including diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting. The infection can result in long-term health complications and even death in severe cases.

To tackle this pervasive issue, the ARS team will combine their ongoing research efforts by combining, standardizing, and coordinating their work to create unified datasets. This collaborative approach will enable them to identify broader trends, emerging threats, and innovative strategies for mitigating Salmonella.

There are more than 2,500 types of Salmonella bacteria, each presenting different risks across various production systems. To effectively manage the vast amount of data, the research team will employ machine-learning tools, streamlining the analysis and integration process. The collaborative nature of the project will foster knowledge-sharing among researchers, potentially leading to groundbreaking discoveries.

The Salmonella Grand Challenge will empower researchers to deepen their understanding of Salmonella risks, develop accurate predictive models, and create monitoring tools specifically tailored for meat and poultry producers. Ultimately, the team aims to contribute to the Healthy People 2030 objective of reducing salmonellosis cases by 25 percent.

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