COLLEGE STATION The National Alliance for Food Safety has begun developing a model for virtual centers of excellence and “to map out a strategy for funding in food safety,” said Dr. Elsa A. Murano, Texas A&M University associate professor of food science and Center for Food Safety director.
Murano also chairs the Operations Committee for NAFS, which met this week at the Bush Library and Conference Center at Texas A&M.
The meeting was attended by 37 representatives of 24 universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service. More than 400 scientists are part of the alliance.
Attendees included scientists from the universities of Arkansas, Tennessee and South Carolina as well as Iowa State, Michigan State, Penn State, North Carolina State and Kansas State universities, she added.
This year the goal of the meeting was to form a practical and logical system to organize all these experts so as to best address needs in food safety research and education.
“We are trying to organize ourselves into centers of excellence so we can efficiently utilize our expertise in responding to the need for information and research,” she said.
To facilitate this process, the group is organizing its members into 12 virtual centers of excellence, Murano said. Six are based on commodities and six on discipline. These 12 virtual centers of excellence are: commodity-oriented centers for safety — beef, pork, poultry,
dairy, plant product, seafood/aquaculture; and discipline-oriented centers — education and outreach, risk analysis and policy, food toxicology, detection and typing methods, microbial physiology and ecology, and pathogen control.
These centers are termed “virtual,” she said, because while they combine the expertise of more than 400 food safety scientists, they are not linked to any specific physical location. These scientific experts will team together in projects, and their research will be available and easier for
others — such as media, government agencies or other scientists — to access when needed.
In addition, the NAFS has partnered with USDA-ARS to conduct research focused on two important disease-causing organisms: listeria and E. coli O157:H7. At Texas A&M, the project linked to this effort “has to do with looking at … the presence of E. coli O157:H7 in feed lots,” Murano said.
What the scientists will do is “look for the presence (of E. coli O157:H7) in the environment, and when we find it, work our way back” to find the source and control it.
The Alliance hopes to structure these centers for excellence so that, when the need arises, scientists in different disciplines and different parts of the country can work “to solve problems in food safety quickly,” she said. Collaboration will be a vital part of the service the scientists will provide.
The system will be based on research, education and information, Murano said. “That’s what we’ve envisioned it to be.”
A Web site that will provide support for the virtual centers of excellence is being established, she added.
With an undertaking this massive, funding is a priority.
Murano said between this year’s and the November 2001 meeting , her goal is to have “several centers … submit proposals on behalf of NAFS. To me, that would mean that we succeeded in organizing ourselves.
“And if we get some funded, well, that will be the evidence of the true value of our organization.”