Auburn University’s New Food
Systems Initiative Seeks Collaborative
Effort to Protect and Improve U.S.
Recent foodborne disease outbreaks have highlighted the need to protect
and improve the nation’s food supply, and Auburn University’s (AU) new
Food Systems Initiative (AUFSI) seeks to bring researchers from different disciplines and even different institutions together to tackle the challenge.
“AUFSI started out as a food safety initiative but has expanded to include
all aspects of the nation’s food system, from production to development of
new food products to protecting the quantity and quality of the U.S. food
supply,” said Dr. Patricia Curtis, AUFSI’s director.
“Everyone has to eat, and we want to
help provide a safe, secure, diverse and affordable food supply for people worldwide,” she said.
AUFSI is a collaborative effort between
AU’s Office of the Vice President of Research and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Stations. As director of the
initiative, Curtis coordinates projects
among faculty across the Auburn campus
and at partner institutions across the U.S.
An important component of AUFSI is
outreach, including offering educational programs for consumers, producers,
processors and food handlers. The university already assists the food and serv-
ice industries by conducting food safety training and researching hazard
analysis and control systems through various departments, the Cooperative
Extension Service and Experiment Stations.
AUFSI’s “virtual faculty” draws on expertise from several well-established
centers and programs, including the Detection and Food Safety Center in the
College of Engineering. Auburn is home to one of the strongest aquaculture
programs in the world, and seafood safety research includes work on neuro-toxicants in fish and seafood-borne bacterial pathogens such as Vibrio vulnifi-cus. Auburn also is home to the National Egg Processing Center, established
in 2008 to enhance the safety, efficiency and quality of shell eggs and egg
products. In the area of beef and poultry safety, Auburn researchers are targeting microbes such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria.
Other universities involved so far include Purdue, North Carolina State,
Alabama A&M, Tuskegee, the University of Alabama–Birmingham and the
University of Alabama–Tuscaloosa. AUFSI’s structure allows for expansion.
“The evolution from a food safety center to a food systems initiative made
sense,” Curtis said, “because the entire food system is changing as a result of
technological advances, changing consumer attitudes and an increasingly
global food chain. In addition, during the next 18 months, the FDA must implement some 50 new regulations, guidance documents and summary papers
as part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.
“Only a multidisciplinary institute can draw together experts in a variety of
fields to meet the needs of food industry and government partners,” Curtis
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” she added, “and it’s work that draws
on expertise in a multitude of disciplines.”
As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) works to strengthen the safety of the nation’s food supply, the produce industry offers its
experience in preventive controls and hazard
analysis. The industry brings real-world practical-ities to FDA’s development of guidance under
the U.S. Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) comments to FDA’s recent request emphasize the industry’s commitment to food safety, especially to
prevention. They identify FDA’s proper role in the
development of preventive controls within a food
facility, regardless of size.
FDA sought comments on information about
preventive controls and other practices used by
facilities that manufacture, process, pack or hold
food to identify and address hazards associated
with specific types of food and specific
processes. PMA also offered comment on hazard
analysis, validation, environmental monitoring,
testing and small business considerations.
Industry members of every size and at every
level in the supply chain are committed to food
safety and share FDA’s focus on prevention. Because variability in size and operational practices
presents different risk profiles, one-size preventive controls do not fit all. PMA stated FDA could
play an important role by defining a framework of
general expectations around how to conduct
proper hazard analyses and the types of preventive controls or metrics that might be valuable.
PMA also remarked that FDA, in partnership with
industry, should provide basic guidance to ensure operators of all sizes and levels of sophistication understand the fundamentals of
risk-based food safety programs and preventive
“Food safety programs can and must be scal-
able, and FDA rightly recognizes the needs of
small businesses,” noted Kathy Means, PMA’s
vice president of government relations and public
affairs. “Every business that handles fresh pro-
duce must have a food safety plan, but these
plans should be adaptable and not burdensome
to small businesses. After all, the reality is that
pathogens do not respect size or type of opera-
tion and consumers expect their fruits and
vegetables to be safe—every time.”
FOOD SAFETY MAGAZINE