University of Nebraska-Lincoln Awarded $25 Million E. coli Research Grant

A multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary team of researchers, educators, and extension specialists at UNL plan to use the $25 million grant to improve risk management and assessment of eight strains of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli in beef.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced recently that it has awarded a $25 million research grant to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) to help reduce the occurrence and public health risks from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) along the entire beef production pathway.

"Shiga toxin-producing E. coli are a serious threat to our food supply and public health, causing more than 265,000 infections each year," said Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting NIFA director. "As non-O157 STEC bacteria have emerged and evolved, so too must our regulatory policies to protect the public health and ensure the safety of our food supply. This research will help us to understand how these pathogens travel throughout the beef production process and how outbreaks occur, enabling us to find ways to prevent illness and improve the safety of our nation's food supply."

A multi-institutional and multi-disciplinary team of researchers, educators, and extension specialists at UNL plan to use the $25 million grant to improve risk management and assessment of eight strains of STEC in beef. This work will include the O104 strain that caused the recent outbreak in Germany. The project will focus on identifying hazards and assessing exposures that lead to STEC infections in cattle and on developing strategies to detect, characterize, and control these pathogens along the beef chain. This knowledge will then be used to find practical and effective STEC risk mitigation strategies.

Most STEC outbreaks are caused by ingestion of contaminated food and contact with fecal material from cattle and other ruminant animals. Most of what is known about STEC comes from outbreak investigations and studies of E. coli O157. The non-O157 STEC strains are not nearly as well understood, partly because outbreaks due to them are rarely identified. This project is geared to improve the understanding of these strains in addition to O157 strains.

In September 2011, USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced a proposal to declare six additional serogroups of pathogenic E. coli as adulterants in non-intact raw beef. Under the proposal, if the serogroups O26, O103, O45, O111, O121 and O145 are found in raw ground beef or its precursors, those products will be prohibited from entering commerce. USDA will launch a testing program to detect these dangerous pathogens and prevent them from reaching consumers.

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