U.S – The United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) has embarked on a groundbreaking initiative to combat salmonellosis, a prevalent foodborne illness that afflicts over a million Americans annually, sometimes with fatal consequences.

“We will integrate ongoing ARS research by combining, standardizing and coordinating efforts to create harmonized datasets.

“This will help identify larger trends, emerging threats and novel Salmonella mitigation strategies,” said Tommy Wheeler, research leader at the ARS U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Neb.

Known as the “Salmonella Grand Challenge”, this collaborative project unites scientists from diverse specialties across the country in a concerted effort to combat the foodborne illness.

The Salmonella Grand Challenge team comprises 18 ARS scientists representing eight fields of expertise and six national program areas.

They are currently working on 12 projects spread across eight ARS research laboratories nationwide. This collaborative effort extends beyond the ARS, involving five USDA agencies and 22 stakeholders spanning various commodities and scales of operation.

Harnessing the power of collaboration

By integrating ongoing research projects, standardizing methodologies, and coordinating efforts, the team aims to create harmonized datasets. Such integration will enable the identification of larger trends, emerging threats, and novel strategies for mitigating Salmonella.

“The important factors affecting Salmonella risk are different across all the production systems. It will take a huge amount of data to better understand Salmonella risk, develop an accurate model and then develop prediction tools for producers to monitor their systems,” Wheeler said.

To achieve their objectives, the team plans to employ machine learning-based modeling, leveraging extensive industry feedback and fostering collaboration with external partners.

By combining their expertise, they aim to develop on-farm strategies that effectively reduce the risk of Salmonella contamination in final meat and poultry products.

Salmonella enterica, the bacterium responsible for salmonellosis, is pervasive, found in animals (including pets), food, water, soil, and even the air.

Notably, poultry products contribute to about 23% of salmonellosis cases, given that Salmonella is the most common zoonotic pathogen, transmitted from animals to humans.

Individuals infected with Salmonella experience distressing symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, chills, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

While most people recover without medical intervention, alarming statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal that nearly 20,000 individuals require hospitalization each year, and approximately 400 lose their lives to this illness.

One of the primary objectives of the Salmonella Grand Challenge is aligned with the Healthy People goals, aiming to reduce these numbers by 25% before 2030.

Unraveling the complexity of Salmonella

The vast diversity of over 2,400 types of Salmonella bacteria presents a formidable challenge. Although prior research has made progress in reducing Salmonella incidence in meat and poultry products, cases of salmonellosis have not seen a corresponding decline. This discrepancy suggests that there are still unidentified factors influencing Salmonella risk, highlighting the need for increased resources and focus on this multifaceted problem.

Crucially, the factors influencing Salmonella risk differ across various production systems, necessitating a comprehensive dataset to develop accurate models and prediction tools for producers to monitor their systems effectively.

Recognizing the complexity of the issue, the Salmonella Grand Challenge brings together experts from different fields to approach the problem from multiple perspectives. This interdisciplinary interaction fosters shared learning, propelling the team towards innovative solutions that would have been challenging to discover independently.

A bright outlook

The Salmonella Grand Challenge holds the promise of delivering valuable tools and insights that the meat and poultry industries can employ to reduce the risk of salmonellosis in their products. With its diverse expertise and fresh perspectives, this collaborative effort is poised to stimulate novel thinking and generate more effective solutions.

In conjunction with the Salmonella Grand Challenge, the ARS has announced its commitment to invest additional resources into research and development efforts targeting foodborne pathogens.

This broader initiative aims to bolster food safety and protect public health by advancing scientific understanding and implementing preventive measures across the food supply chain.

For all the latest food safety news from Africa and the World, subscribe to our NEWSLETTER, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel.