Nut products. Spices. Pet food. Breakfast cereals. Although most consumers would not expect these foods to contain harmful bacteria, all have been linked to nationwide outbreaks and recalls due to the presence of salmonella, which is the most frequently reported bacterial cause of food-related illness in the U.S. To better regulate the way foods are grown, harvested, and processed, the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act focuses on preventing food contamination rather than responding to foodborne-illness events.
To address that need, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded a five-year, $4.7 million project (Enhancing Low-Moisture Food Safety by Improving Development and Implementation of Pasteurization Technologies) led by Professor Bradley Marks at Michigan State University, with collaborators at Washington State University, University of Nebraska, Illinois Institute of Technology, North Carolina State University, and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. This team of engineers and microbiologists spent the past five years improving methods to ensure food processing systems can effectively control salmonella bacteria. They have accomplished this through laboratory research, industry-scale testing, and training programs supporting industry professionals responsible for the safety of low-moisture food products.
This academic-government partnership generated important new scientific evidence across multiple types of food products, aiding FDA’s work in validating pathogen control processes and developing guidelines the industry can use to ensure the safety of low-moisture food products. For example, data generated in this project on salmonella resistance to heat in various food processes (such as drying, baking, or roasting) have been used by FDA during food safety investigations and in developing regulatory policies that are framing guidance documents currently under development.
The collaborative research and training programs funded by NIFA in this project have improved scientific knowledge and workforce capabilities to proactively design, implement, monitor, and maintain food processing systems to ensure harmful bacteria are prevented from surviving in products headed for consumers’ breakfast bowls, lunch sacks, and dinner plates. Food safety is the goal of the Food Safety Modernization Act, a vital mission area of FDA, and a significant NIFA impact.