T Food Safety Issues in Georgia

Food Safety Issues in Georgia
The issue of food safety is as close as your next
Increasing safety of locally grown
meal, yet it covers such widespread challenges as
food recalls and imports, the state’s booming food
processing industry, organic growers and school
lunch programs.
The UGA College of Agricultural and
Environmental Sciences stands guard to protect
Georgia citizens with food safety research,
education and information. What follows is a
sample of the many ways CAES looks at this issue
and acts to keep food safe.
Georgia ranks 9th in the U.S. in the number of estimated
cases of foodborne illness annually, having more than 2.5
million cases at a cost of $4.7 billion. Direct marketing of
farm products through farmers markets continues to be an
important sales outlet for agricultural producers in Georgia,
with the number of farmers markets increasing 9.6 percent
since 2011.
The local or organic, small to medium farms that sell
directly to consumers often don’t have the personnel to develop
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) plans to address food safety
concerns, nor do they have resources to pay for third party
audits required as part of GAP.
With funding from the USDA National Integrated Food
Safety Initiative, UGA Cooperative Extension specialists and
agents from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences and
the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have
developed the Enhancing the Safety of Locally Grown Produce –
On the Farm Food Safety education program with farmers and
growers as well as the Enhancing the Safety of Locally Grown
Produce – At the Market Food Safety education program with
farmers market managers.
Statewide, 163 growers and 36 farmers market managers
have been trained. Safe production and marketing of local
produce can reduce costs associated with these illnesses,
can prevent devastating losses to farmers and can help local
agricultural markets and businesses to flourish.
Reducing E. coli contamination
Leafy greens are a major vehicle of foodborne disease
outbreaks, including E. coli O157:H7 infections. Practical
intervention methods are needed to reduce the risk of pathogen
contamination of leafy greens at all stages of production and
A collaboration of five universities (Michigan State
University, Clemson University, Illinois Institute of Technology,
the University of Cordoba-Spain and the University of Georgia)
as well as USDA-ARS (through the USDA-NIFSI project “A
Systems Approach to Minimize Escherichia coli O157:H7 Food
Safety Hazards Association with Fresh- and Fresh-Cut Leafy
Greens”) has been establisheded to provide mitigation strategies
to minimize E. coli O157 contamination of leafy greens.
The UGA Center for Food Safety served as the lead
organization for this project, which resulted in identifying
critical points of risk for E. coli O157 contamination of leafy
greens and developing practical approaches or interventions for
reducing the potential contamination at these critical points.
This initiative will benefit public health by enhancing the
microbiological safety of leafy greens.
Food safety training
Education in safe food handling techniques for food service
managers is considered a major intervention for reducing
foodborne illness. UGA Cooperative Extension trained almost
1,500 food handlers, restaurant servers and school cafeteria
workers last year in order to address this issue.
In 2012 Extension specialists and agents taught 116
food safety classes to Georgians. Additionally, the “So Easy to
Preserve” guide for home canners, one of the most popular
publications in the country for home food preservation,
is produced by the National Center for Home Food
Preservation housed at UGA.
Food Safety Issues in Georgia
Sustaining sustainable food systems
Reducing bacterial contamination
One of the challenges facing humanity over the next 50
years is increasing the security and resiliency of food systems
for a growing population without depleting natural resources
or degrading the ecosystems on which long-term sustainability
depends upon.
Building sustainable food production, processing
and distribution systems will require integrating a wide
range of environmental, economic and social issues. This
approach requires a mechanism to develop partnerships and
collaboration for research, teaching and outreach.
A cross-college Sustainable Food Systems Initiative was
launched in 2012 to provide a platform for interdisciplinary
research, education and Cooperative Extension efforts across
the University of Georgia, addressing production, energy, water,
environment, economic, nutrition and human health issues
related to food systems in a holistic manner.
A Sustainable Food Systems Faculty Forum in October
reviewed work being conducted on this issue across the UGA
campus to determine several critical areas in which the group
could begin interdisciplinary work. The group submitted a
grant proposal to the USDA-NIFA National Needs Fellowship
Program to obtain funding for supporting a masters-level,
graduate study program that would emphasize interdisciplinary
work on food systems problems.
Forty-four faculty attended the forum, representing CAES,
the College of Environment and Design, College of Public
Health, the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources,
the School of Ecology, the College of Family and Consumers
Sciences, as well as the departments of Anthropology and
Geography from the Franklin College.
This broad cross-section of faculty discussed their work in
the food systems area and identified critical topics for focus.
One of these focuses is evaluating the optimal mix of scales of
production and distribution to maximize safe, healthy food and
minimize environmental impacts. Another focus is developing
indicators of sustainability in production and distribution
Foodborne illnesses caused by salmonella, Listeria
monocytogenes and Shiga-toxin-producing Escherichia coli
(STEC), especially E. coli O157:H7, are a serious public-health
concern in the U.S. Each year 31 major pathogens acquired in
the U.S. cause 9.4 million episodes of foodborne illness, 55,961
hospitalizations and 1,351 deaths.
Cattle are the major reservoir of E. coli O157:H7, and
many outbreaks of E. coli infections have been the result of
transmission through foods of bovine origin, although many
other foods, especially fresh produce, have also been implicated.
Many of the pathogen intervention strategies for the food
industry involve the use of antimicrobial chemicals in rinses or
washes. However, the antimicrobial efficacy of most chemical
intervention treatments is reduced by the presence of organic
Many chemicals used for the control of pathogens are also
unfriendly to the environment. More effective antimicrobial
treatments are desired that are practical, cost-effective, safe to
use and keep the treated food appealing.
The results obtained from tests by UGA food scientists
will provide practical approaches for reducing foodborne
pathogens, especially Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli, Listeria
monocytogenes and salmonella, on beef and produce.
For more information visit the Making an Impact website at