Toward a Safer Food Supply
Toward a Safer Food Supply
Fresh cut fruits and vegetables.
America's food supply is among the safest in the
world, thanks in part to scientists in ARS' nationwide network of food safety labs.
Here's a glimpse at some of the work taking them into the new millennium.
- While convenient and healthful, fresh-cut fruit and vegetable
productslike bagged salad mixes and ready-made fruit saladscan be
targets of food-poisoning microbes. Scientists are experimenting with ionizing
radiation to zap microbes like Escherichia coli O157:H7 and
- New research may yield fast, reliable tests to ensure shellfish products
are pathogen-free. Assays will target organisms like hepatitis A and Vibrio
vulnificus, which can infect oysters and clams.
- Livestock manure may harbor pathogenic microbes like Cryptosporidium
parvum. These organisms may make their way into foods if raw or improperly
composted manure is applied to fields, for instance. New studies of pathogen
growth, survival, and movement into soil or irrigation water will seek
inexpensive, effective ways to kill the pathogens before they can infect crops.
- Antibiotics used to protect livestock from disease or boost growth might
contribute to development of food-poisoning microbes that are drug-resistant.
This may make the microbes more difficult to kill if they were to move from
animals to humans via meat or poultry products. ARS microbiologists have begun
testing antibiotic resistance of many pathogens, as part of the USDA and Food
and Drug Administration's new National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System.
- Scientists are helping food producers identify potential contamination
areas in processing plants, so they can take preventive measures. Producers and
scientists are determining the most hazardous sites for each stage of
production and are creating practical ways to reduce contamination risks.
- Leading-edge technologies like biosensors and genome mapping may prove
invaluable in battling food pathogens. Biosensors may use harmless compounds
that will bind to pathogens and send a signalthrough a chemical change,
for instancedetectable by high-tech instruments. Future biosensors for
food pathogens are expected to be at least 100 to 1,000 times more sensitive
And genome mapping of plants, animals, and microbes may open the door to new
strategies to inhibit pathogens. Rebuilt genes, for example, could make
tomorrow's plants and animals unsuitable hosts for pathogens, thus reducing our
exposure to them.By Marcia
Wood, Agricultural Research Service Information Staff.
This research is part of Food Safety, an ARS National Program (#108)
described on the World Wide Web at
For details, contact Food Safety National Program Leaders
James A. Lindsay or
Jane F. Robens, USDA-ARS
National Program Staff, 5601
Sunnyside Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705-5138; phone Lindsay (301) 504-4674, Robens
(301) 504-5381, fax (301) 504-5467.
"Toward a Safer Food Supply" was published in the
December 1999 issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.