S1077: Enhancing Microbial Food Safety by Risk Analysis

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active

S1077: Enhancing Microbial Food Safety by Risk Analysis

Duration: 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Non-Technical Summary

Statement of Issues and Justification

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in six Americans becomes sick each year from eating contaminated food, with about 48 million cases of foodborne illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths occurring each year from foodborne pathogens in the U.S. (Scallan, Griffin et al. 2011, Scallan, Hoekstra et al. 2011). Norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness cases in the U.S., accounting for 5.5 million annual cases (58%), followed by non-typhoidal Salmonella (1.0 million, 11%), Clostridium perfringens (1.0 million, 10%), and Campylobacter spp. (0.8 million, 9%). The USDA Economic Research Service estimates that the economic burden of 15 leading foodborne illness acquired in the U.S. is $17.6 billion, in 2018 dollars, an increase of about 13% from the previous canonical estimates in 2013 of $15.5 billion. Salmonella, Toxoplasma gondii, Listeria monocytogenes, norovirus, and Campylobacter still are the top 5 contributors, costing $4.1, 3.7, 3.2, 2.6, and 2.2 annual billion, respectively, with all else costing $1.7 billion (Hoffman and Ahn 2021). Poultry, complex foods, pork, produce, and beef rank as the top five food commodities most commonly implicated in foodborne illness, with Campylobacter-poultry, T. gondii-pork, L. monocytogenes-deli meats, Salmonella-poultry, and L. monocytogenes-dairy as the leading the pathogen-food combinations with the highest cost of illness burden (Batz, Hoffmann et al. 2012). 

Further, there is an ongoing need to reduce incidence of foodborne disease in the US.  Though 2019, the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) data showed that ‘The incidence of most infections transmitted commonly through food has not declined for many years’ (Tack, Ray et al. 2020), which tracks with the increase in economic burden estimates.  True, during the 2020 year that included the first impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, FoodNet identified 26% fewer overall infections, including decreases associated with international travel (Ray, Collins et al. 2021) – it is not clear if this is a real decrease due to changes in behavior or an effect of changes to public health capacity to identify cases.  Regardless, it seems plausible that foodborne disease may regress to the long-term trend of limited progress as food system adjusts to a new post-pandemic normal.  Therefore, the fundamental issues as justification for this project renewal in 2023 remain consistent with those from the 2018 project, below.

The long-term goal of this project is to perform comprehensive and integrative risk-based research, education, and outreach to improve food safety and advance public health. The project establishes multi- and trans-disciplinary teams of academics, food producers/processors, retailers, consumers, and local, state, and federal agriculture and health officials. The research conducted under this project contributes to the understanding of foodborne pathogen ecology and transmission—including the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria--in fresh and processed foods so that more effective mitigation strategies can be designed and applied at various stages of the farm-to-table continuum.

The food industry faces problems that are sufficiently complex to render effective research-based solutions are beyond the scope of any single researcher’s programmatic outputs. Therefore, these complex issues are most efficiently addressed through multidisciplinary efforts by experts in risk analysis, microbial ecology, epidemiology, food safety microbiology, experimental design, data analysis, and other complementary research areas. This project has been specifically designed to address critical needs of the fresh and processed food industries by developing a thorough understanding of how foods become contaminated with foodborne pathogens and how transmission can be further reduced.

Outreach objectives have been developed and integrated into the overall program design to support these research efforts. These objectives include communication of risk-based management recommendations to stakeholders as well as to those who interact with stakeholders. Communication strategies are precisely tailored to farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. Message content focuses on risk-based strategies for microbial control deemed critical for each target audience to achieve the greatest strides in improving food safety. Outreach to those who advise producers and consumers (e.g., educators, extension personnel), but who are not part of the project, will be achieved through ongoing professional development opportunities to disseminate key information as outlined in the “Milestones” section.

The results of this project will directly impact industries that handle foods most implicated in foodborne disease outbreaks, including low-moisture foods (especially spices, nuts, and dried fruits); fresh, minimally, and shelf-stable processed produce; dairy; fresh and further processed seafood, meat, and poultry products (including fully cooked and ready-to-eat products subject to post-process contamination), as well as other multi-component and processed foods. Moreover, the threats and specific needs for food safety in the food industry are constantly evolving and require continued risk-based solutions in the face of these changes. Therefore, the project proposes risk-based solutions for the effective control of foodborne pathogens across food commodities in the U.S.

The data generated by this project serves as the foundation for the development of predictive models that can be used to better understand pathogen contamination at specific points of food production and for validation of pathogen reduction interventions. Furthermore, this group will work to standardize protocols among laboratories so that research results can be more easily and directly compared. These outcomes will contribute to the long-term profitability and sustainability of the food industry by providing enhanced tools for microbial control and mitigation.

Having a mechanism to establish formal collaborations under the umbrella of a single goal will enable scientists in this group to access external funding more successfully than if collaborations were formed ad hoc because of the multi-disciplinary nature of food safety research. Furthermore, the scientists in this project are highly committed to (1) the recruitment of a diverse student population, (2) responsible research conduct, (3) outreach and education to communicate current research, and (4) the advancement of food safety science by keeping one another accountable for their share of results.

This multi-state project also proposes integrative and innovative approaches to teaching food safety at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students will be exposed and trained in the use of modern molecular techniques such as next generation sequencing, metagenomics, and bioinformatics. Partnerships with industry colleagues will allow students to work on current and emerging food safety challenges and to think creatively and critically to solve them.

The need for training programs to support the next generation of food safety professionals and to increase the ethnic and cultural diversity among food safety researchers to better reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. population is clear. Greater diversity is critical from the perspective of educational opportunity, but also relative to food safety and public health because various regional and ethnic groups may face different food safety challenges. Cultural and personal sensitivity and competence among food safety professionals is necessary, and the project proposes to train a new generation of food safety students with both a strong technical background and the soft skills needed to help them succeed in their future careers.

Related, Current and Previous Work

Previous Work

During the 2013-2018 cycle, members of the  S1056  group authored over 525 peer-reviewed papers about food safety. Findings described in these publications have improved the understanding of the microbial ecology, survival, inactivation, and biology of foodborne pathogens. All these inputs are essential for informing risk analysis and assist with food safety policy development. The focus on risk communication of S1056 resulted in more than 130 peer-reviewed extension publications, which are written for lay audiences to describe outcomes of research, practical applications of these findings, and development of food safety plans to mitigate risk within the food industry.

While the research and extension outputs of S1056 members are notable, the collaborative efforts (defined as funded projects, extension activities, or co-authored publications) between members speaks to the strengths of this multi-state project. There were more than 150 collaborative efforts between members at 39 different institutions over the 2013-2018 period which encompasses the active dates of S1056. There were 14 new institutions that joined S1056, creating 59 collaborations. Actively recruiting members from Kansas State, North Dakota State University, New Mexico State University, Oregon State University, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, University of Connecticut, University of Illinois, University of Maine, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts, University of Puerto Rico, University of Wisconsin, and Wayne State University speaks to the efforts of the previous S1056 project to further extend collaboration amongst members of the project moving forward. Active recruitment of members from minority serving institutions including New Mexico State University, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, and University of Puerto Rico, also demonstrates the dedication to expanded inclusion of faculty from all institutions where food safety research is being conducted.

Current Work

During the 2018-2023 period, the S1077 group has continued to publish relevant food safety research and extension publications in risk assessment, management, and communication. Additionally, project membership has been expanded, whether formally (via NIMMS) and/or nominally (via listserv) to include many 1890 land-grant institutions and non-land-grant universities conducting food safety research. New members include faculty from Alabama A&M University, Delaware State University, Florida State University, Florida A&M University, Southern University, Virginia State University, and University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Expanding formal or nominal membership to food safety faculty in 1890 land-grant universities has increased opportunities for collaboration across the three areas of risk analysis covered by this project

In the 2018 write-up of the S1077 project, the objectives were shifted to focus on Risk Assessment, Risk Management and Risk Communication. These areas  are still appropriate and capture the logical progression of research inputs from many different facets of food safety research. This risk analysis framework is also consistent with US National (FDA 2017) and International (FAO 2023) food safety governance.

The adoption of this risk-based systems approach allows researchers to:

  • Continue to be engaged along the entire farm-to-fork continuum on a variety of food products including dairy products, meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, spices, dried fruits and nuts, and vegetables

  • Work on bacterial, parasitic, and viral pathogens

  • Evaluate emerging detection and decontamination technologies and processing methods

  • Input data into more complex and all-inclusive mathematical models

  • Transfer this information through innovative and evolving methodologies to stakeholders along the continuum. 

Related Multistate Research Projects 

It is important to establish the unique nature of any multistate project upon renewal. The following multi-state projects identified in the NIMSS search included some mention of food safety objectives

Project Number: Title. Duration

  • NC1202: Enteric Diseases of Food Animals: Enhanced Prevention, Control and Food Safety. 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

  • NECC1701: Luminescence Techniques for Food Quality, Stability & Safety. 10/01/2017 to 09/30/2022. Status is inactive/terminating and there are no future versions of the project documented.

  • S294: Quality and Safety of Fresh-cut Vegetables and Fruits. 10/01/2012 to 09/30/2027

  • NC1023: Engineering for Food Safety and Quality. 10/01/2020 - 09/30/2025

  • W5122: Beneficial and Adverse Effects of Natural Chemicals on Human Health and Food Safety. 10/01/2022 to09/30/2027

  • NC1194: Nanotechnology and Biosensors. 10/01/2021 to 09/30/2026.

  • S1076: Arthropod Management in Animal Agriculture Systems and Impacts on Animal Health and Food Safety. 10/01/2023 to 09/30/2028.

Amongst these projects which appear to be active in the future, there are none which overlap significantly with the proposed objectives described for this project. Projects NC1202 and S294 are both commodity-specific. NC1023 has a focus on food engineering where food safety is one application area for the focus, and our project uses methods well beyond food engineering. Similarly, NC1194 focuses on nanotechnology and biosensor development, where food safety is again an application area. W5122 focuses on chemical rather than microbiological aspects of food safety as well as health. Similarly, S1076 focuses on arthropods rather than microbes and their impacts on food and ag, including food safety, where the domain scientists are entomologists.


  1. • Food Safety Risk Assessment – Characterizing food safety risks in food systems
  2. • Food Safety Risk Management - Develop, validate, and apply science-based interventions to prevent and mitigate food safety threats
  3. • Food Safety Risk Communication - Convey science-based messages to stakeholders to improve food safety behaviors and practices


Because this is a very large project, with over 80 active faculty/senior personnel participants, it is not feasible to describe in detail full methods for individual research projects with individual participant responsibilities.  Instead, this project will describe the high-level methods used by individual faculty for advancing food safety risk assessment, management, and communication.  With a focus on the scientific importance and goals of these methods.  In addition, the reality of the funding allocations for most faculty on the project is that they are given funding to participate in the annual project meeting, but not additional funds for specific research projects.  Given the nature of that support, the role of this project  is to bring faculty together to plan collaborative work.  Therefore, the project will describe the outputs, outcomes, and impacts, that will be achieved by bringing faculty together in the focused multistate meetings. 

General Methods Applicable to Objectives 1 and 2

A combination of basic and applied science questions will be answered using laboratory experiments, field trials, and epidemiological investigations.

Food Commodities: Samples may be obtained from producers or processors, or purchased from local retailers or distributors. Food animals may be studied as well. Samples will be stored at appropriate temperatures prior to use. Time between obtaining the foods/samples and experimental use will be minimized. Commercially relevant varieties will be utilized.

Pathogens: Strains that have been associated with outbreaks from the commodities of interest will be used whenever possible. If not possible, other significant pathogenic strains will be selected. These strains are often available in the PIs’ laboratories. Their availability amongst participating researchers will be facilitated, in part, by participation in this project helping to developing Material Transfer Agreements (MTA). Validated non-pathogenic surrogates of various microorganisms are also available for those situations where the use of such organisms may be appropriate. Efforts to screen and evaluate additional surrogates will also be a part of this project. Strains of different genera can be engineered to contain traits (e.g., fluorescence) which will allow easy identification of the inoculated strains in the presence of high levels of background microflora. Additionally, any animal tissue samples, or animal models used to cultivate or study some of these pathogens will be made available. This is especially relevant in the case of viruses, as two recent tissue culture methods for human noroviruses were reported in the mid 2010s (Jones, Watanabe et al. 2014, Ettayebi, Crawford et al. 2016), and are being continually improved (Ettayebi, Tenge et al. 2021).

Inoculation: Standard methods will be used for all pathogens, including viral or parasitic innocua. Methods for inoculation of food commodities will vary, as required, to best mimic standard commodity-specific criteria and the specific hypothesis-based research questions being addressed.

Recovery of Pathogens from Inoculated Samples: Enumeration of bacterial pathogens will be done following serial dilution using standard culture techniques or by molecular or immunological techniques commonly used by project PIs. When samples fall below the limit of detection, standard enrichment protocols (FDA BAM (FDA 1998); FSIS MLG (FSIS various), or others) will be followed. The collection of quantitative data will be encouraged whenever possible and can be used to populate risk models. The European Committee for Standardization has developed a standard method for the recovery, concentration, and detection of noroviruses and Hepatitis A virus from select food commodities (vegetables, soft fruits, and oysters) which will be used until the US develops its own standard or adopts the EU standard EN ISO 15216-1:2017.

Recovery of Pathogens from Environmental and Uninoculated Food Sources: Project PIs will strive to determine not only the frequency of pathogen isolation, but also investigate concentration of identified pathogens, as concentration is a critical variable required in Objective 2. When appropriate, concentration techniques may be used to evaluate larger than typical sample volumes/weights, and enrichment techniques used to evaluate samples when low numbers of cells are present.

Objective 1: Food Safety Risk Assessment – Characterizing food safety risks in food systems.

The long-term goals within the risk assessment space are (i) evaluate and model environmental parameters and indicator organisms as it relates to the presence of pathogenic microorganisms; and (ii) understand persistence, dissemination and traceability of microorganisms and antimicrobial resistance within the environment, food products, food production, food processing, food distribution, and consumer systems. Advances along these goals can improve full supply chain risk assessments, such as was done with the now-classic Listeria monocytogenes in ready-to-eat foods risk assessment (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) and Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) 2003), and is in progress with the current USDA FSIS efforts to improve regulatory approaches to Salmonella in a poultry (FSIS 2022)– a process which is required by law to be informed by risk assessment.

Evaluate and model environmental parameters and indicator organisms as it relates to the presence of pathogenic microorganisms.

Critical to the development of risk-based approaches to food safety is the understanding of how the presence and populations of pathogenic microorganisms relate to measurable physicochemical and microbial indicators. Currently employed standards throughout the food production and manufacturing sectors involve the frequent sampling for various indicator or index organisms. However, while dogma dictates that changes in indicators or indexes result in an increased risk for a product, very little published literature on this topic is available. PIs in the group will develop and validate rapid detection methods and communicate benefits and limitations of the rapid versus conventional methods.

One specific novel approach to investigating the relationship between indicators and pathogens will be to apply “omics” technologies to identify better indicators or predictors of pathogen presence under various environmental conditions – patterns that remain undetected by classical methods. For instance, one could apply metagenomics for enhanced characterization of the microbial communities in the food and food manufacturing environment and determine how these communities may change over time in relation to the environmental conditions associated with processing, preservation, sanitation, and storage (Billington, Kingsbury et al. 2022, Imanian, Donaghy et al. 2022); although attempting this in one pet food system showed that while omics analysis can pick up changes in food microbiome profiles, these  changes may not correlate to pathogen presence (Beck, Haiminen et al. 2021)– more work is needed. Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) and associated modeling tools will be expanded to incorporate these omics findings, as discussed in (Guillier, Palma et al. 2022). Phenotypic data, such as a minimum growth temperature, will support model inputs to investigate strain level response intensity (i.e., a biomarker identified via metagenomics) over a continuous variable (i.e., temperature range). To further enhance and address some of the shortcomings of metagenomics (i.e., poor sensitivity for low level contamination, amplification bias, and inability to distinguish between genetic material originating from viable and non-viable cells), meta-transcriptomic sequencing may be used as a complimentary tool.

Understand prevalence of pathogens and antimicrobial resistance within the environment, food products, food production, food processing, food distribution and consumer systems.

The success of any risk assessment hinges on a comprehensive understanding of both concentration and distribution of risk factors, including foodborne pathogens and presence of antimicrobial resistance genes. Much of the currently available prevalence data is lacking critical concentration data (i.e., how much of a given pathogen is anticipated in a specified amount of food product). Potential spatial-temporal population differences may exist across the US and offer a unique niche for PIs collaborating on this multistate project to evaluate. These spatial patterns that exist along the farm-to-fork continuum provide insight into current relative risk of food products and production environments and are a critical starting point against which all risk reduction attempts can be benchmarked. Statistically-sound sampling methods and sample sizes are of fundamental importance to all studies. These issues will be addressed by our plan to (i) evaluate frequencies and concentrations of pathogens and/or antimicrobial-resistance genes and (ii) identify production, manufacturing, distribution, or consumer management practices that improve public health by reducing these risks.

Understanding how risk factors can vary from the time a food product is conceived to consumption by a consumer, and how typical industry or consumer practices and handling can influence risks. While a significant amount of data exists for some commodities, others remain relatively understudied, and handling practices are continually evolving within the industry. For data that do exist, a systematic review to identify critical data gaps and extraction of data for meta-analyses and inclusion into comprehensive risk assessments is an opportunity for PIs of this project. The industry recognizes the risks associated with “cross contamination”; however, data to model and understand the fundamental mechanism of cross-contamination and elucidate novel prevention strategies are lacking. Our strategy to tackle this concern rests in our multidisciplinary systems approach of critical data gap identification, data generation, and modeling of multiple commodity, production, process, distribution and consumption patterns.

Modeling approach: We will develop separate risk assessment models for different hazard-food pairs. We will employ a probabilistic modeling approach using relevant computational tools. Through the QMRA models, we will predict the prevalence and concentration of the foodborne pathogens as foods move from farm/production to consumption in the supply chain. We will use pathogen specific data (e.g., prevalence, internalization at the preharvest level, growth kinetic data such as exponential growth rate and temperature, and response to different processing practices, such as washing and use of antimicrobials) during model development and simulation. The model will comprise major risk factors (with their inherent variabilities and uncertainties) that affect the exposure of consumers to pathogens from consumption of foods. Along with the above-mentioned data and models, data on food consumption will be used to estimate the exposure of the U.S. consumers to these pathogens. The best available dose-response models will be used to combine the outputs of exposure assessment to get to risk, focusing on a modern approach to dose-response that incorporates understanding of strain-to-strain variability.  For example, current research in Salmonella dose response includes papers  estimating serotype specific dose response functions for Typhimurium, Infantis, and Heidelberg (which insufficient data for other serotypes) (Teunis 2022), and genomics papers that attempt to estimate individual strain relative virulence based on whole genome sequence analysis and models of virulence determinants (Karanth and Pradhan 2022). The risk assessment will conclude with an estimate of adverse health effect (estimated number of illnesses/deaths) from consuming fresh produce potentially contaminated from pathogens.

Sensitivity analyses: The developed models will be used to perform sensitivity and scenario analyses to identify sensitive variables and evaluate potential intervention strategies, respectively. Sensitivity analyses will be conducted to identify steps/parameters that most significantly contribute to the risk due to the exposure to pathogens associated with foods. “What-if” scenario analyses will be conducted to evaluate and identify potential intervention strategies to reduce the risk of exposure to the bacterial pathogens through consumption of foods.

Collaborative activities related to risk assessment include:

  • Participants will present and share new data sets, risk assessment tools, and modelling apps developed or currently in development. This will provide the full group of participants with interactive experience with modern methods of risk assessment. This interactive use is a major advance over the current passive practice of researchers posting risk assessment products to repositories (like FoodRisk.org or GitHub) and hoping that other researchers find and build off their work.
  • Participants will discuss common risk assessment and modelling technical challenges both at the annual meeting and virtually, at least monthly outside the annual meeting. This will create peer support for this relatively niche area of research, and by meeting virtually outside the annual meeting, can include graduate students and post-doctoral staff that are typically unable to travel to the annual meeting.  This will also provide a critical mass of students available to fill and maintain the small number of academic risk assessment courses offered throughout the US, with some attending remotely.
  • During the project year, participants can use the mailing list to share requests for expertise on new project proposals. This will be facilitated by the annual meeting where new participants will present their skills and background, so others know how to bring them into projects.
  • Pre-meeting short courses to address specific participant-identified gaps in knowledge. For example, pre-COVID the group identified a need for a pre-meeting workshop on food safety sampling statistics: theory, recent research, and practical tools. In this next phase of the project particular domain experts can develop such a pre-meeting course, which could potentially be further developed into a cross-university student course, or a short course for a meeting like IAFP.

Objective 2: Risk Management – Develop, validate, and apply science-based interventions to prevent and mitigate food safety threats.

Risk management is the process of applying the results of risk assessments for the control and mitigation of foodborne pathogens, including regulatory action. More specifically, this is the process of studying discrete but interrelated sections of the farm-to-table continuum to provide comprehensive and integrative solutions to complex food protection issues.  Practically, this process uses risk assessments (such as from Objective 1)  to develop specific interventions for risk mitigation at specific points along the farm-to-fork continuum. These models allow for the prediction of the safety of a product based on the entire sequence of events up to consumption, including worst-case food handling scenarios. They provide a framework for evaluating the effectiveness of risk-reduction strategies. The results of the risk modeling approaches will also help identify critical data gaps, which will feed back into new projects for risk assessment (Objective 1), that will better inform continued improves in risk management (Objective 2)

Aside from continued evaluation and application of known mitigation strategies (such as thermal inactivation, refrigerated storage to reduce pathogen outgrowth), we will also seek out novel approaches for the prevention and control of foodborne pathogens including (i) the optimization or development of transformative technologies and (ii) the discovery or synthesis of new antimicrobial compounds with potential GRAS status. We will also continue investigating the application of biologically-derived antimicrobials (phages, essential oils, etc.) via nanotechnologies and will also investigate novel delivery systems for established and newly discovered antimicrobials. The response of various food/pathogen combinations to one or more of these interventions will be assessed to determine synergistic effects and the emergence of cross resistance.

Monitoring physicochemical parameters during food transportation and handling is poorly characterized  For example, an in progress review of leafy greens produce supply chain risk models found that all post-packaging time-temperature data came from 1 of 2 sources (EcoSure 2008, Zeng, Vorst et al. 2014), meaning more recent data is needed. The development of wireless temperature sensors allows us to remotely monitor fluctuations in temperature that occur during commercial processing, transportation, and handling of food products as well as transportation from retail to domestic kitchens. Data from these studies will be used in risk assessment models to predict the growth of foodborne bacterial pathogens during various stages of the food chain, especially during temperature abuse.  These more accurate risk assessments will then drive selection of risk management strategies that efficiently both preserving the safety of the food and limiting waste and overuse of energetically expensive cold chain technologies.

A scoping review of consumer-focused food safety interventions found that improving consumers risk perception using emotional communication from trusted sources is most effective (Bass, Brajuha et al. 2022).  This project will focus on a major area of concern for food contamination, the domestic kitchen, where multiple opportunities for mishandling exist, and consumer actions may increase food safety risks. Because of the unpredictable nature of consumer practices at home, inclusion of behavioral responses in risk assessment models is extremely challenging. Observational studies in kitchens and food service operations are most helpful for determining consumer behavior and have been previously used to determine that consumer compliance with food safety best practices is quite low (Maughan, Chambers et al. 2016). This will seek to understand consumer practices in laboratory kitchens and work to develop feasible interventions to improve consumer food handling in domestic kitchens.

Finally, education and outreach activities outlined in Objective 3 will be based on the results of these experiments targeting specific populations. The risk assessment activities of this program will be designed with small and very small growers and food processors in mind.

Collaborative activities related to risk management include:

  • At the annual meeting participants will share examples of transformative changes in the year where research has directly been applied to risk management or industries have worked with academics to justify risk management investments for their processes.
  • Participants will provide peer-support on navigating partnerships with companies and regulators. These partnerships are critical for have risk management impacts, but require specific skills that senior researchers develop over time, informally, to navigate conflicts of interest, liability, and university contracting systems.

Objective 3: Risk Communication – Convey science-based messages to stakeholders to improve food safety behaviors and practices

Effective communication is critical to elicit positive behavior and management changes toward a safer food supply. Instead of just disseminating of information through the publication of factsheets, peer-reviewed journal articles, and presentations, we propose to use two-way exchanges of information between stakeholders and researchers to tailor risk management messages for each specific audience. Multiple criteria will be used to evaluate and assess message content and media. How these messages result in measurable changes in behavior, attitudes, skills, and tangible impacts on improving food safety within the food production continuum will be evaluated. Based on stakeholder feedback and the assessed success or limitations of various communication strategies, changes will be made in approaches to meet specific audience needs.

Risk avoidance messages should be based on data and derived from this multi-state project’s research (See Objectives 1 and 2). However, information from other multi-state groups and individuals, both nationally and internationally, should be included in crafting appropriate messages and determining the best route for message delivery. Stakeholders will require unique combinations of specific information and delivery routes (print, electronic, presentations, video animation, interactive games, etc.).

Members of this group have partnerships and collaborations with various stakeholder groups situated at all levels of the farm-to-table continuum, including producers, processors, retailers, food service employees, and consumers. However, to enhance the capacity of this group to communicate food safety information to stakeholders, we will expand our communication efforts into the food industries (seafood, juice, beverage, produce, dairy, meat, poultry, egg, ingredients, etc.), food service and retail organizations, consumers, as well as public health and regulatory agencies.

In addition, S1077 members working directly with the groups mentioned above will enhance Objective 3 by expanding the breadth and diversity of the multi-state team through targeted invitations to academic colleagues and the formation of working groups to coordinate targeted information and outreach activities. Examples of such groups could include juice safety efforts in Florida and New Jersey; oyster safety efforts in the Pacific Northwest, Louisiana/Gulf Coast, and Maryland, or leafy greens safety in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Therefore, the diverse geographic representation and backgrounds of participating institutions and individuals allow for maximum impact and uniform messages to be communicated.

Collaborative activities related to risk communication include:

  • Expand the number of participants in our group so they can become multipliers of the messages the group deems important. To do so, we will use our well-connected membership to invite individuals from other domains such as (i) academic personnel (Extension and research) from underrepresented land-grant institutions, (ii) local, state, and federal agencies (e.g., USDA, FDA, State Departments of Agriculture and Health, etc.), (iii) research branches of federal agencies such as USDA-ARS and FDA-CFSAN, and (iv) other relevant institutions involved in the safety of our food system.
  • Through stakeholder participation, conduct needs assessments/surveys to determine current trends and food safety issues and broadly share information through presentations at annual meetings of scientific organizations and publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
  • Transfer food safety knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, and skills to undergraduate and graduate students via training opportunities at collaborating institutions, resident education, through Extension internships, or Extension and/or outreach activities nationwide.
  • Facilitate national networking and coordination amongst the users of food safety information from production to consumption (farmers, producers, processors, inspectors, researchers, consumers, etc.) to explore regional and national barriers and opportunities.
  • Identify and disseminate information about databases of food safety information and interactive software to support decision-making amongst food safety professionals on a regional or national scale, as necessary.
  • Disseminate (share among partners) food safety trainings, multi-user distance education programs, satellite communication, webinars, etc., to deliver food safety training on topics related to food safety regulations at any level of the food chain (e. g., HACCP, Food Defense, FSMA, ServSafe)
  • Encourage our multi-state project members to participate actively in professional food safety venues and acknowledge the multi-state contributions of their activities publicly at meetings and/or in publications. Some program examples are IAFP, IFT, and ASM.
  • Conduct evaluations to determine the impact of educational and/or outreach activities on student and/or workshop participants’ food safety knowledge, attitude, behavior, and/or skills changes.

In addition to the research activities performed by the group’s members, outcomes and impacts associated with the fulfillment of these objectives will be documented annually, and national and regional efforts and collaborations will also be identified. A decrease in redundancy in regional efforts and a more efficient use of financial resources in food safety research and outreach will result in a more directed focus on current and emerging problems. Because of the increased availability of information and knowledge transfer among stakeholders, the opportunity will exist for decision-makers in industry, academia, and government to make better, risk-informed choices related to regulations and the allocation of resources to improve food safety.

Measurement of Progress and Results


  • Developed outreach/extension education and training materials for stakeholders including regulatory personnel, extension agents, producers, processors, and consumers.
  • Increased strategic discussions between participants on how to overcome barriers to multi-state collaborations, such as small-group work at the annual meeting on topics like managing effective multi-state collaboration.
  • Increased collaborations within the participants of the group and therefore grants collaborations and number of publications related to this multistate research project.
  • Increased engagement of food safety researchers at minority-serving institutions.
  • Increased professional development opportunities specific to the stated needs of academic faculty, such as short courses in topics like in risk communication and or scientific communication.

Outcomes or Projected Impacts

  • Expanded and more mature collaboration and more efficient research project/proposal development between food safety scientists across US institutions.
  • Increased understanding of food safety measures by regulatory personnel, producers, processors, consumers, and extension agents.
  • Increased ability to meet growing needs for US food safety intellectual capacity by more collaborative development of and early-career professionals, such as assistant professors leading grants with more multi-state participants as co-PIs
  • By doing the above, enhanced food safety of US agricultural products.


(2023):Invite representatives of NC 1194, Nanotechnology and sensors, to share outcomes from their multistate project with project members and foster collaboration for developing better food safety related analytical tools. This is a follow up from activities in 2022-2023 where S1077 wrote a letter of support for a USDA conference grant proposal by NC 1194 on such a theme

(2024):Expand knowledge of risk assessment by hosting a one-day short course in conjunction with the annual meeting: Food Safety Sampling Statistics

(2024):Invite representatives of NC 1023, Engineering for Food Safety and Quality, to share outcomes from their multistate project with project members and foster collaboration for developing more robust risk management tools related to: low aw foods, non-thermal interventions as well as discoveries/obstacles when implementing these technologies

(2025):Expand knowledge and application of risk communication by hosting a one-day short course in conjunction with the annual meeting: innovative approaches, how to design messaging for your audience, and media training.

(2026):Enhance diversity of membership through targeted recruitment of individuals working on food safety issues at Tribal Colleges and Universities.

(2027):Host the group in Kansas City to visit NIFA and NBAF.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Outreach Plan

The core of the outreach plan is to leverage the existing pathways to dissemination research and Extension output that are typical, and effective for project work.  Almost all members of the project have at least partial research appointments at their home institutions. As such, they are professionally committed to peer-reviewed publications, presentations at regional and national meetings, and responding to requests for engagement by media and stakeholder organizations.  In addition, about half of our members have significant Extension appointments.  These members work in their institution’s Extension system to conduct needs assessments, generate fact sheets, hold workshops, and otherwise engage with stakeholders. 

One additional way that this multistate project increases outreach capabilities is that we maintain an e-mail list for active members where members do share particularly topical, urgent, important outreach materials, such as guidance documents for responding to natural disasters.  That way this project facilitates sharing resources across outreach programs, such that individual participants can build up previous work rather than duplicating effort.

Finally, food industry visits during the Annual Meeting have been a staple during the past 10 years of this project. For examples: In 2015, we toured an aquaculture operation in Rhode Island. In 2016, in New Mexico, we visited a start-up salsa factory to learn about the challenges they may have faced with respect to implementation of food safety regulations.  In 2022 we visited a diary co-op and creamery in Oregon.  We fully plan to continue this type of engagement at our future annual meetings. 


We follow the recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.

The 3 elected positions comprise the executive board, responsible for the management of the project, with roles as follows: Chair - coordinates reporting, submits annual reports, main point of contact with NIFA representative; Vice-Chair – maintains active member e-mail list, e-mails messages to the group including administrative tasks, job postings, and opportunities; Secretary – takes minutes at the annual meeting, assists Chair and Vice-Chair, as needed, throughout the year.  The other key role for the group is that every year representatives from one member institution volunteer to host the next year’s annual meeting.  The host is responsible for setting the agenda for the meeting and coordinating logistics, all in consultation with the executive board.

<this paragraph was not needed, is not included in the final document> The typical leadership selection process is that a secretary is elected for a 2-year term by the members present at the annual meeting, typically in Fall of each year. About 1 month before the meeting the board solicits nominations for the position (self-nominations are OK) such that candidates are typically identified prior to the meeting; if no candidates are identified before the meeting, candidates are identified at the meeting.  Members vote by a sealed paper ballot.  The candidate with the most votes is elected.  That elected secretary serves a 2 year term, then ascends to the vice-chair, serves another 2 year term, then ascends to chair for another 2 year term.  Typically, the past chair will also stay involved with the executive board (though group e-mails, online planning meetings) until the first annual meeting by the new chair. In this way, the executive board maintains continuity. Junior members ascend to increasingly complex tasks over multiple years, and everyone can learn from the more senior members of the team.  Selection for the host is typically by consent, as there is typically only one volunteer for a host location; if there are multiple volunteers, the members vote by show of hands.   

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