Kniel part of USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative study on norovirus

August 4, 2011 under CANR News

Kali Kniel, associate professor in the University of Delaware’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences, is part of a national team led by North Carolina State University that has received a $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to strengthen food safety by studying human noroviruses across the food supply chain in an effort to design effective control measures and reduce the number of virus-caused food-borne illnesses.

Human noroviruses are the most common cause of food-borne disease, responsible for more than 5 million cases in the United States each year. Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces.

The five-year project is led by Lee-Ann Jaykus, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University. The group, called the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative, consists of a team of more than 30 collaborators from academia, industry and government.

The team will work to increase understanding of the viruses; educate producers, processors and food handlers on safe handling and preparation of food; and develop control and management strategies to reduce food contamination before and after harvesting.

The project has six core objectives:

• Develop improved methods of studying human noroviruses and their role in food-borne illnesses.

• Develop and validate rapid and practical methods to detect human noroviruses.

• Collect and analyze data on viral food-borne illnesses – including how they are transmitted – and provide risk and cost analyses.

• Improve understanding of how human noroviruses behave in the food-safety chain in order to develop scientifically justifiable control measures.

• Develop online courses and curricula for food safety and health professionals and food service workers, and provide information to fresh produce and shellfish producers and processors on the risks, management and control of food-borne viruses.

• Develop a public literature database, build virus research capabilities in state public health laboratories, and develop graduate-level curricula to educate masters and doctoral students trained in food virology.

Other institutions involved include Clemson University, Baylor College of Medicine, Emory University, Research Triangle Institute, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Georgia, North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, and the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Other key collaborators hail from Ohio State University, Louisiana State University, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and USDA Agricultural Research Service, Arizona State University, New Mexico State University, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Rutgers University. Various industrial and government stakeholders will serve the collaborative in advisory capacity.

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CANR researchers Chen, Kniel receive funds to fight foodborne illness

July 27, 2011 under CANR News

Researchers in the University of Delaware College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) have received funds to continue the fight against foodborne illness in the form of two grants totaling more than $5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Haiqiang Chen, associate professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, will serve as the project director for a team of researchers who received a $4,997,078 grant focusing on the “Inactivation of Enteric Foodborne Viruses in High Risk Foods by Non-Thermal Processing Technologies.”

The study will focus mainly on human noroviruses, which cause acute gastroenteritis and account for more than 50 percent of foodborne disease outbreaks. Other enteric foodborne viruses such as hepatitis A virus and rotavirus will also be studied.

The overall goal of the study is to identify effective non-thermal processing technologies to destroy the viruses in high-risk foods, such as shellfish and produce, and disseminate the knowledge through education and outreach.

While thermal processing technologies, which involve heating food to a high temperature to kill microorganisms and enzymes, is the most commonly used processing technology in the food industry, scientists have been working on non-thermal processing technologies for the past three decades.

According to Chen, non-thermal processing technologies can still kill microorganisms and enzymes while, at the same time, better maintaining the raw characteristics of processed foods.

The efficiency of those non-thermal technologies will be tested, as will the effect of processing technologies on the quality of high-risk foods.

“This grant will help us to understand the mechanism of viral inactivation by non-thermal processing technologies, potentially develop a culture system to assess the survival of human norovirus and develop effective processing technologies that potentially could be used by the food industry to control foodborne viruses in high risk foods,” Chen said.

Kali Kniel, associate professor of animal and food sciences, along with Manan Sharma of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service Environmental Microbiology and Food Safety Laboratory and Jeri Barak of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have received a grant of more than $444,949 to study “Plant Responses to Foodborne Bacteria and Viruses.”

“We are working together to investigate the growing problem of fresh produce contamination by microbial pathogens,” said Kniel. “This is the first time all three pathogens of high importance are being investigated using novel approaches.”

The three pathogens the group will be looking at are norovirus, pathogenic E. coli, and salmonella. The long-term goal of the their research is to understand and characterize the mechanisms that allow foodborne pathogens to attach to and colonize plants.

The researchers said they are hoping that this will eventually lead them to the more effective use of antimicrobials and good agricultural practices, which will reduce the number of illnesses and harmful effects on public health.

Article by Adam Thomas

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