March 31, 2005
In an effort to limit acute gastroenteritis, or food poisoning, the second most prevalent household illness, Cornell professors from the department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences have joined a research team which aims to identify the origin and transmission of pathogens that cause food-related illnesses.
Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture formally announced the formation of the Food Safety Research and Response Network (FSRRN), funded by a $5 million grant from the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. The research team is comprised of over 50 experts from 18 different campuses across the country.
Among those distinguished researchers are Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine faculty members Yrjo Grohn, epidemiology, chair of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences; Yung-Fu Chang, assistant director of the microbiology section; Ynte Schukken, epidemiology, director of Quality Milk Promotion Services (QMPS); Lorin Warnick, ambulatory and production medicine; Hussni Mohammed, epidemiology; and Linda L. Garrison-Tikofsky, senior extension veterinarian at QMPS.
The initiative focuses on researching the transmission and spread of pathogens in the pre-harvest stage, through four distinct areas of research based on the findings of the American Academy of Microbiology’s Pre-Harvest Food Safety Colloquium, which took place in December, 2003. These projects include pre-harvest food safety pathogen detection, surveillance and risk assessment, public health impact of pre-harvest food safety pathogens, microbial ecology of pre-harvest food safety pathogens, and cost-effective intervention strategies for pre-harvest food safety pathogens. While most studies have been done post-harvest, with focus on food science, the new pre-harvest study will focus on veterinary epidemiology, or the causes, distribution, and control of diseases within animals.
Grohn and Warnick along with colleagues at Washington State University are leading the study of how animals become infected with Salmonella and other pathogens. This study coincides with their current research, funded by the National Institute of Health, of the spreading of Salmonella within a herd. Chang is co-leading research on the factors necessary for Campylobacter and Salmonella to colonize in animals.
However, while most researchers in the network are carrying out pathogen research, research specifically funded by the grant has not yet begun.
“The current phase [of the initiative] is that the decision to finalize first year projects is almost completed,” said Grohn.
This initiative coincides with the USDA’s current exploration of the efficiency of larger grants to a series of institutions, as opposed to its traditionally smaller grants to single institutions. The USDA currently has bestowed 3 large-scale grants at this time.
While Grohn sees the potential for the project “to put together the best combination of people and resources,” he also said that researchers have difficulty communicating. Despite monthly conference calls and annual meetings, researchers are not always aware of the progress and undertakings of different divisions within the team.
The research network has the secondary responsibility of modifying its research, at the request of other federal and state agencies, to address any future food related epidemics.