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Washington delegation visits to discuss food safety

The Food Research Institute hosted FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, FDA Senior Advisor Mike Taylor and Senator Herb Kohl for a two-hour discussion on food safety during their visit to the UW-Madison on August 11. FRI director Chuck Czuprynski presented an overview of current FRI activities highlighting interdisciplinary research projects involving faculty and staff from FRI and other colleges and departments across campus. Other attendees included regional FDA officers and representatives of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and Department of Human Services.

To illustrate the range of campus interests related to food safety, six faculty and staff members gave brief descriptions of current projects:

  • Eric Johnson discussed the importance of his select agent research on botulism and his collaboration with the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD in MN) on issues of food security, safety and defense.
  • Jeri Barak, described attachment of human bacterial pathogens to plant surfaces and approaches to prevent attachment or eliminate these bacteria to provide safe fresh produce for consumers.
  • Lorna Zach, a member of the Center for World Affairs and the Global Economy (WAGE) reported on activities related to Safety of Imported Foods including a recent collaborative symposium on managing these challenges that was organized by faculty from Engineering, Law, FRI and Economics.
  • Jo Handelsman expressed concern that we are losing the use of antibiotics because of increasing levels of resistance. Because about 75 percent of current antibiotics were isolated from soil bacteria, she is using metagenomic analyses of soil bacteria to identify potential novel antibiotics.
  • Kathy Glass regularly conducts challenge studies and other projects in the Applied Food Safety Laboratory to determine safe formulations for a variety of food products. A recent collaborative project funded by GMA, investigating survival of non-O157 shiga-toxin producing E. coli in pepperoni, was highlighted.
  • Andy Milkowski presented perspectives on food safety challenges that industry faces: new pathogens and the public’s expectation for perfection in addressing them, the need to maintain scientific rigor, concerns about possible ambiguity in new regulations, diet and health fads that lead to confusing designations of “good” and “bad” foods.

Commissioner Hamburg asked for further information on a number of issues and engaged in discussion of the issues raised. She said that the current Administration in Washington is very interested in food safety and she expects that increased funding will aid in better protecting the public from foodborne diseases. A tour of the Microbial Sciences Building and some of the research labs concluded the visit.