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KSU researchers seek to improve beef safety

By The Mercury

Seventeen Kansas State University scientists will join researchers from other universities and government agencies in a coordinated approach to improve the safety of beef.

The $25 million effort will focus on ways to reduce 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 team of 48 investigators will be led by veterinary scientist Jim Keen from the University of Nebraska. The effort is funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Randy Phebus, K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, will join Keen and three others on the overall project’s executive management team. That team will oversee seven inter-related projects that span the five-year life of the grant. 

Phebus said the grant will “shine the light on UNL, K-State and our other collaborators across the country to address one of the most important issues facing the beef industry.”

In addition to his role on the management team, Phebus will lead a project focused on improving methods used to detect and control eight types of E. coli that are most important to public health in post-harvest beef processing. The goal is to understand how the bacteria behaves under different conditions in order to enhance beef processors’ food safety management systems. K-State’s unique Biosecurity Research Institute biocontainment research facility will provide the large-scale laboratory setting for much of this part of the project.

Daniel Thomson, Jones professor of production medicine at K-State, feedlot veterinarian and director of the Beef Cattle Institute, will lead efforts establishing a holistic food safety culture across all sectors of the beef food chain.

Beth Montelone, K-State associate dean and professor of biology, will lead a team that develops training for high school, undergraduate and graduate students that integrates field and laboratory research with university-level education. Internships and externships linked to the project will place students in the laboratories of the grant’s scientists to learn food safety research techniques, with the goal of recruiting students into majors that will provide highly trained food safety professionals to the food industry. 

The USDA reported that as of July 2011, there were 100 million head of cattle and calves in the United States. Kansas had 6.3 million head as of Jan. 1, 2011.









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