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Electron micrograph of a Listeria bacterium in tissue.
Electron micrograph of a Listeria monocytogenes bacterium in tissue. The new web portal will help food processors protect food from Listeria and similar pathogens. Image courtesy Public Health Image Library of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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USDA Web Portal Offers Big Food Safety Benefits for Small Food Processors

By Laura McGinnis
September 19, 2007

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2007—The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has unveiled a new Internet resource to help smaller companies answer food safety questions and help food processors make science-based food production decisions. The Internet portal, available at /naa/errc/mfsru/portal, is one of the most comprehensive decision support tools available.

"Scientists, food safety risk managers, researchers and government decision-makers can use this access to predictive modeling tools and food microbiology information," said Edward B. Knipling, administrator of USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). "The portal is geared towards small and very small processors, but the information it contains will benefit companies of all sizes."

"This partnership builds on our extensive efforts to provide more resources and better tools to the small and very small plants so they can enhance the safety of their products," said Al Almanza, administrator of USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

The Predictive Microbiology Information Portal (PMIP) was developed by ARS scientists at Wyndmoor, Penn., working with colleagues at FSIS, Rutgers University, and Decisionalysis Risk Consultants, Inc., in Canada. FSIS will also provide a link to the portal to facilitate access by the meat and poultry industry, especially small and very small plants.

PMIP focuses on processors with 500 or fewer employees. ARS microbiologist Vijay K. Juneja and his ARS and FSIS colleagues met with many industry members to tailor the Web portal to their diverse needs in providing safe and wholesome products to consumers.

Currently, PMIP offers information on research, regulations and resources related to Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods, the prototype identified for the project by FSIS. In the coming months, it will be expanded to include other pathogen and food combinations. A searchable database allows users to find information that can also be used by food processors to develop plans for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, to ensure the safety of food processes.

The Web portal also includes a tutorial section with instructions on using and interpreting predictive models and links users directly to the ARS Pathogen Modeling Program and ComBase. The Pathogen Modeling Program is a multi-lingual modeling tool that is used by food processing companies around the world. ComBase is an international relational database of predictive microbiology information that contains more than 30,000 datasets describing the growth, survival and inactivation of bacteria under diverse environments relevant to food processing operations.

ARS is USDA's chief intramural scientific research agency. FSIS is USDA's public health agency responsible for ensuring that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and correctly labeled. FSIS provided funding for the collaborative project.