Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced research funding to North Carolina State University (NCSU) to study human noroviruses in an effort to design effective control measures across the food supply chain and reduce the number of food-borne illnesses caused by viruses. Vilsack announced the $25 million grant to NCSU today while speaking before the annual conference of the International Association for Food Protection in Milwaukee.
"There is no more fundamental function of government than keeping its people safe from harm, and this grant will help us understand how human noroviruses are transmitted and survive in food, and ultimately strengthen our efforts to control them," said Vilsack. "Enhancing our understanding of human noroviruses is the first step toward reducing the number of food-borne illnesses they cause."
Human noroviruses cause more than 21 million illnesses each year, and more than half of all food-borne disease outbreaks are due to noroviruses. Noroviruses spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water, and by touching contaminated surfaces. The major foods at risk for contamination are molluscan shellfish, fresh produce and foods that are extensively handled just prior to consumption. Despite being the major cause of food-borne illnesses, most public health officials, food industry workers and consumers believe that bacteria are the leading cause of illness. This project seeks to raise awareness of the importance of noroviruses and develop methods to control contamination and reduce the number of illnesses.
With the $25 million grant from NIFA, NCSU food science professor Lee-Ann Jaykus will lead a team of researchers to establish the USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative to increase understanding of the viruses; educate producers, processors and food handlers on safe handling and preparation of food; and develop control and management strategies to reduce food contamination in pre- and post-harvest environments. The project will work to:
* Develop improved methods of studying human noroviruses and their role in food-borne illnesses.
* Develop and validate rapid and practical methods to detect human noroviruses.
* Collect and analyze data on viral food-borne illnesses, including how they are transmitted, and provide risk and cost analyses.
* Improve understanding of how human noroviruses behave in the food safety chain in order to develop scientifically justifiable control measures.
* Develop online courses and curricula for food safety and health professionals and food service workers, and provide information to fresh produce and shellfish producers and processors on the risks, management and control of food-borne viruses.
* Develop a public literature database, build viral research capabilities in state public health laboratories, and develop graduate level-curricula to educate master's and doctoral students trained in food virology.
In addition to NCSU, the team will be led by scientists at Clemson University, Baylor College of Medicine, Emory University and the National Foundation for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In total, the team will include more than 30 collaborators from across academia, industry and government.
The coordinated agricultural project (CAP) grant was awarded through USDA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and administered through NIFA. AFRI food safety grants promote and enhance the scientific discipline of food safety, with an overall aim of protecting consumers from microbial, chemical, and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of the food chain, from production to consumption.
AFRI is NIFA's flagship competitive grant program and was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas: plant health and production and plant products; animal health and production and animal products; food safety, nutrition and health; renewable energy, natural resources and environment; agriculture systems and technology; and agriculture economics and rural communities.
Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people's daily lives and the nation's future. More information is available at: www.nifa.usda.gov.