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The U.S. agriculture department is interested in expanding a statewide food safety study, a University of Tennessee scientist said Wednesday.

Dr. Ann Draughon, a food scientist for UT’s Agricultural Experiment Station, said she and other UT researchers recently discussed the Tennessee Food Safety Initiative with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman.

Draughon said the talk included plans to expand UT’s study of contamination of disease-causing bacteria at dairy, beef, poultry and pork farms in Tennessee.

“Secretary Glickman and the USDA scientists with him were interested in knowing more about our food safety initiative,” Draughon said. “They indicated a strong likelihood for collaborative research between USDA and the University of Tennessee.”

Draughon said little is known about how disease-causing organisms survive and persist in soil, animal food, water, and animal populations.

The UT study, launched last year with a $475,000 U.S. Food and Drug Administration grant, seeks to find disease-causing organisms such as E. coli O157 and Salmonella and devise ways to prevent them, she said.

Researchers will look at about 20,000 samples of soil, air, water, animal hair, food, and other items from about 15 Tennessee locations, including farms and UT Agricultural Experiment Stations.

They also will recommend ways to prevent contamination and monitor farms for pathogen reduction, Draughon said.

“Most prevention methods are designed for detecting contaminants in food products and food processing,” Draughon said, “but we still don’t know where these pathogens are coming from. On-farm detection is essential for reducing these pathogens in human foods.”

The UT study could lead to additional partnerships in food safety research and education between UT, farms, universities and USDA laboratories in other states, Draughon said.

“The result could be a safer food supply for the entire nation,” Draughon said.

Contact: Mike Bradley (423) 974-2225

              Dr. Ann Draughon (423)974-7425