A $25 million research grant from the USDA will give scientists from University of Nebraska , Kansas State University and other universities and government agencies an opportunity to improve beef safety through reducing the risk of E. coli.

Research will focus on reducing the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli (STEC), a serious threat to the food supply that results in more than 265,000 infections in the United States each year. Eating contaminated food or direct contact with fecal matter from infected cattle and other ruminants causes most of these illnesses.

The grant was awarded to UNL by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The team of 48 investigators will be led by UNL veterinary scientist Jim Keen. Keen, Randy Phebus, K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, and three others will lead the project’s executive management team to oversee seven inter-related projects that span the five-year life of the grant.

Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting NIFA director says the research seeks to understand how non-O157 STEC bacteria pathogens travel throughout the beef production process and how outbreaks occur. The grant hopes to find how to prevent illness and improve the safety of our nation's food supply.

The project will focus on identifying hazards and assessing exposures that lead to STEC infections in cattle and on developing strategies to detect, characterize and control these pathogens along the beef chain. This knowledge will then be used to find practical and effective STEC risk mitigation strategies. The five main objectives of the project include:

  • Detection: develop and implement rapid detection technologies for pre-harvest, post-harvest and consumer environments.
  • Biology: characterize the biological and epidemiological factors that drive outbreaks of STEC in pre-harvest, post-harvest, retail and consumer settings.
  • Interventions: develop effective and economical interventions to lessen STEC risk from cattle, hides, carcasses, and ground and non-intact beef and compare the feasibility of implementing these interventions for large, small and very small beef producers.
  • Risk analysis and assessment: develop a risk assessment model for STEC from live cattle to consumption to evaluate mitigation strategies and their expected public health impacts.
  • Risk management and communication: translate research findings into user-friendly food-safety deliverables for stakeholders, food safety professionals, regulators, educators and consumers.

In addition to K-State and UNL, participating institutions include: North Carolina State University; the University of California, Davis and Tulare campuses; the University of Delaware; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; the New Mexico Consortium; USDA-Agricultural Research Service; New Mexico State University; Texas A&M University; and the University of Arkansas.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Kansas State University