U center to seek faster detection, removal of food-supply dangers

The University Center for Post-Harvest Food Protection and Defense will bring students, staff and faculty to the forefront of the fight against food contamination in the United States.

The center will employ University faculty, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in its work, said Charles Muscoplat, dean of the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences.

The University will receive $15 million over the next three years to develop the center. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the grant Tuesday.

University officials said they will not know how the grant money will be spent until they discuss specifics with the department.

“The Department of Homeland Security will help set the agenda and help provide guidance of where the consortium should focus its effort,” said Shaun Kennedy, associate director of the University’s Center for Animal Health and Food Safety.

It is unlikely the center will be housed in a new building, Kennedy said.

“There’s no need to use the money from the grant to put up a new building,” Kennedy said.

Instead, he said, grant money will focus on researching food contamination.

The University has increased its work on food contamination since Sept. 11, 2001, said Julie Ostrowsky, program manager for the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

“After 9-11 and the anthrax episodes, there hadn’t been any groups talking about interactions between food and the issue of bioterrorism,” Ostrowsky said. “Focusing on food, the ‘U’ really brought those issues to the forefront.”

Botulin toxins, ricin and anthrax most frequently threaten the nation’s food supply, said Frank Busta, a food science and nutrition professor and principal investigator for the grant project.

The center’s employees will find ways to perform rapid detection of contaminants in the nation’s food supply and research chemicals that will remove them, Busta said.

Not all of the money will go directly to the center, Muscoplat said. The University will subcontract to other universities, including Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and North Dakota State University, as well as private companies and individual faculty members at other universities.

Texas A&M University and the University of Southern California also received grants.