PHOTO: K-State food scientist Randy Phebus and graduate students Nick Baumann and Nick Sevart process ground beef inside a biosafety level 3 “Biobubble” at K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute in Pat Roberts Hall. Projects like this led to K-State’s inclusion in a multistate $25 million beef safety grant.
A food safety outbreak affects consumers, those who produce and process the food, and the economic stability of the food industry.
To improve beef safety and prevent outbreaks, K-State scientists are working with counterparts across the country through a $25 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) coordinated agricultural program grant.
The project focuses on reducing the occurrence and public health risks from six Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC) that result in more than 265,000 infections in the United States each year. The grant was awarded to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; however, K-State has 20 faculty involved with the grant and receives $8.2 million over its five-year duration.
K-State food scientist Randy Phebus serves on the grant executive team with Harshavardhan Thippareddi and Rodney Moxley, UNL; John Luchansky, the USDA/Agricultural Research Service; and Dan Gallagher, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. More than 50 researchers from 11 institutions and the USDA/ARS will address five interrelated project objectives during the five-year grant.
The management team meets twice weekly, often including other collaborators, to assure they are not duplicating but enhancing efforts across the different universities.
“Our three primary goals are to reduce public health risk related to STECs in the beef system; provide scientific information and guidance to producers, processors, regulators, and consumers to help lower incidences of STEC in beef products; and recruit and energize the next generation of food safety professionals through degrees and training,” said Phebus.
To ensure that all segments of the industry are represented throughout the project, the team assembled an advisory council. Mark Knight, owner and manager of Knight Feedlot in Lyons, serves as a stakeholder on the council.
“Our family and Knight Feedlot appreciate the work that has been done at Kansas State University,” Knight said. “Whether directly or indirectly related to our feed yard, any type of outbreak in the beef industry causes catastrophic panic about the food we produce.
“This type of preventive research is what could save many family farms, our industry, and many operations out there that benefit from the beef industry such as ranchers, auction markets, farmers, truckers, ethanol plants, nutritionists, veterinarians, feed yards, and many others. So when I was asked to be a part of this project, it only made sense.”
Phebus explained that one-third of the $25 million grant is to be used for education and outreach. Many of the educational materials and online training modules will be produced at K-State in English and Spanish.
To meet the grant’s student recruitment goal, the group has launched a competitive internship and training program.
“The internships will be open to undergraduate, graduate, or veterinary medicine students interested in food safety, beef safety, beef processing, public health, or food safety education,” Phebus said. “Students from across the nation — including K-State students — will apply to work with faculty at one of the collaborating institutions.”
Phebus selected an undergraduate intern to help him set up and validate important beef processing equipment in K-State’s Biosecurity Research Institute.
“One goal of K-State’s Vision 2025 is to enhance undergraduate research,” Phebus said. “These types of grants and research will help us achieve our goal.”
For More Information:
Randy Phebus, 785-532-1215, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.stecbeefsafety.org
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