According to Dr. Jaykus, an impressive and inspirational list of food safety research, extension, and educational activities spearheaded by NCSU are not only unique to the Tarheel State, but wildly significant nationally and internationally.
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“Relative to research, NCSU faculty and collaborators are conducting basic science research on the biology of Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes,” she begins. “There is also myriad applied food safety research at NCSU covering the commodities of red meat, poultry, fresh produce, and seafood.”
In 2011, NCSU received a landmark $25 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to study human noroviruses across the food supply chain.
Norovirus is the most common cause of acute gastroenteritis in the U.S., according to the CDC. Each year, it reportedly causes 19 million to 21 million illnesses and contributes to 56,000 to 71,000 hospitalizations and 570 to 800 deaths nationwide. Norovirus is also the most common cause of foodborne disease outbreaks in the U.S.
You’ve Got a Friend: NoroCORE
Under Dr. Jaykus’s expert leadership as scientific director, what has become the iconic USDA-NIFA Food Virology Collaborative (NoroCORE—Norovirus Collaborative for Outreach, Research, and Education) consists of a team of more than 30 collaborators from academia (representing 15 universities), industry, and government. The team’s mission is to increase understanding of foodborne viruses; educate producers, processors, and food handlers on safe handling and preparation of food; and develop control and management strategies to reduce food contamination before and after harvesting. The ultimate goal is to design effective control measures and reduce the number of virus-caused foodborne illnesses.
Dr. Jaykus is proud to boast about NoroCORE’s accomplishments to date.
“Basic science research has led to better understanding of the biology of noroviruses,” she relates. “We have produced several ‘designer’ molecules that can be used to better diagnose disease and detect norovirus in foods and the environment. And we have collected epidemiological data that refines estimates of the burden of norovirus disease in the U.S.”
Moreover, the NoroCORE scientists have identified several technologies and tools, including copper, aerosolized hydrogen peroxide, and pulsed light, that are showing promise in inactivating human noroviruses on surfaces and foods. They have also produced a reagent exchange and comprehensive literature database that supports investigators and facilitates collaboration.
“We have trained more than 20 graduate students who now have specific expertise in food virology,” Dr. Jaykus says. “We have provided significant extension and outreach to several sectors, including, among others, food service and grocery; sanitation and hygiene; testing and test kit manufacturing companies; molluscan shellfish and fresh produce industries; the cruise ship industry; and environmental and public health professionals. Besides all of that, our public outreach endeavors feature novel messaging that includes fact sheets, infographics, animations, and various social media campaigns.”
Many other accomplishments are expected by the completion of the NoroCORE project in 2017, Dr. Jaykus emphasizes.
Extension and Education
In support of the FSMA, NCSU offers a strong extension and outreach program to fresh produce growers and packers, with an emphasis on small farmers. “A vegetable fermentation lab on campus sponsored by the USDA Agricultural Research Service conducts basic and applied research, and significant outreach, to this group of stakeholders,” Dr. Jaykus notes.
“NCSU offers a food entrepreneurial program that supports small food businesses in product development and safety,” she says. “Our department provides expertise in microbiological risk assessment. And we offer strong outreach to consumers and other entities, including food service, schools, and farmers markets, with an emphasis on promoting food safety through the use of training and social media.”
The FBNS offers one of the only graduate minors in food safety in the country. Novel distance education college credit courses, certificate programs, workshops, and training opportunities, with a focus on the food industry, cover Good Manufacturing Practices, sanitation, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points programs to start the list. Not surprisingly, there’s an online course on norovirus, which is geared for industry and the regulatory community.