University of Georgia scientists were awarded a five-year $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study ways to kill foodborne pathogens on beef before it arrives on supermarket shelves and in restaurant kitchens.

The research project focuses on six different processing technologies at meat processing facilities to determine if they are effective and feasible to adopt across the industry.

Technologies examined during the project will include infrared radiation, electrolyzed water, radio frequency, a levulinic acid plus sodium dodecyl wash, UV activated TiO2 photocatalysis treatment and germicidal UV light.

Inactivating pathogens

Led by UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Professor Yen-Con Hung, the food and animal scientists will work to inactivate Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, or STEC, and noroviruses on beef.

“Since January 2000, more than 20 million pounds of beef have been recalled in North America,” Hung said. “A 2003 U.S. study estimated the annual cost of E. coli O157:H7 illnesses to be $405 million. This estimate includes $370 million for premature deaths and $30 million for medical care.”

Cattle have been implicated as the primary reservoir of STEC, which can infect people who eat ground beef or dairy products contaminated by cattle feces.

Fighting noroviruses

“Human noroviruses account for an estimated two-thirds of all disease caused by foodborne pathogens,” Hung said. “Norovirus contamination of food can occur anywhere along the farm-to-fork continuum by human contact or contact with contaminated water.”