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SPRING 2009
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Sidebar: Life Sciences

Preventing Crimes of Pathogens

If foodborne illness and death is a crime of pathogens, crime prevention could be the best remedy for the estimated 76 million cases of foodborne disease each year in the United States.

That is the strategy behind a new, $1.67 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to food scientists at Cornell and five other institutions: to prevent health hazards coming from fresh fruits and vegetables as they travel from farm to fork.

Directing the initiative will be Randy Worobo, associate professor of food science at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva, and Martin Wiedmann, associate professor of food science at Cornell’s Ithaca campus.

Randy Worobo, associate professor of food microbiology, is a co-collaborator in a
new USDA grant.
Joe Ogrodnick, NYSAES

Randy Worobo, associate professor of food microbiology, is a co-collaborator in a new USDA grant.

Other collaborators in the Cornell-based USDA program work at the University of Florida; University of California, Davis; Texas Tech University; West Texas A&M University; and Michigan State University.

Worobo explains that the program will focus on prevention methods rather than trying to eliminate pathogens once produce is contaminated, saying: "We want to identify the critical points or factors that present high risks for produce contamination. The greatest challenge will be collecting all the research findings and condensing them into recommendations and guidance for different target audiences."

Because pathogens can contaminate produce through fecal-tainted water sources on the farm, from wildlife, during processing and shipping, at retail outlets, or through unsafe food preparation by consumers, the Cornell team is taking a multidisciplinary approach.

Other Cornell faculty participants include Kathryn Boor '80, professor and chair of the Department of Food Science; Carmen Moraru, assistant professor of food science; Betsy Bihn, National Good Agricultural Practices program coordinator and senior extension associate of food science; Lorin Warnick, PhD '94, associate dean, College of Veterinary Medicine; and Olga Padilla-Zakour, MS '88, PhD '91, associate professor of food science and technology.