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Last updated:
October 18, 2002

UW-RF Holds Annual Microbiology Symposium

The safety of the food we eat, an issue that has taken on new meaning since the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the threat of bioterrorism that followed, was a topic of discussion at the 22nd annual Food Microbiology Symposium at UW-River Falls. Chronic Wasting Disease, another foodborne health hazard that has recently come to the forefront, was also discussed.

Lt. Colonel Leslie Huck, chief of the Food Safety and Quality Assurance Division, U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, San Antonio, Texas, addressed the topic of bioterrorism on Oct. 13 with a presentation titled, "Assuring Safety of our Food and Water in the Wake of Terrorism."

He prefaced his presentation by saying, "Unfortunately, many biological agents are hard to distinguish from naturally-occurring foodborne diseases. Current inspection methods may not detect deliberate contamination."

In reviewing the procedures all branches of the U.S. armed forces have taken to prevent contamination of their food supply, Huck emphasized the need to make preparations now to prevent contamination of the general public's food supply.

There should be a coordinated effort between federal and state regulatory agencies, he said, and laboratories should coordinate their testing capabilities. It is important to consider everything, from procurement to storage, to preparation and serving.

To protect our water supply, Huck said, we should also consider every aspect of it, from the source, whether it is a well, lake or river, to the treatment facility and the storage unit.

When asked what he considers the biggest threat at this time, Huck responded, "Anthrax. It's spores can survive pasteurization. It would be easy to use anthrax in a poultry plant, for example. Foot and Mouth Disease wouldn't be hard to get in here, either."

Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Jim Harsdorf covered the topics of Chronic Wasting Disease and other food safety issues in the state, saying that nearly everything his department does has to do with the transfer of food.

"From the dairy farm to the food table, what we do has to do with making sure that food is safe," he said. "I believe we in Wisconsin produce some of the safest food on this earth. Everyone, from the producer to the marketer to the consumer, has a stake in providing safe food."

Addressing the proactive position Wisconsin has taken in handling Chronic Wasting Disease, Harsdorf said, "We found it because we went out looking for it. When we found it last February in Mt. Horeb, that was the first time it had been found east of the Mississippi River. Others say they don't have it, but that is because they haven't looked for it.

"We have closed our borders to the transport of deer and elk, and we will test 500 deer in every county. That will be about 45,000 tests in all, not counting the deer shot by hunters that will be tested."

The seminar was sponsored by the department of animal and food science in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. It is one of the two main technical seminars in the nation. The session on Sunday was free, and the public was invited to attend.

The symposium continued with a technical program Oct. 14 to 16, consisting of lectures and discussions relevant to food borne pathogens and toxins, as well as the safety, quality and shelf life of foods by speakers from academia, industry and regulatory agencies. It also included presentations by representatives of various companies involved in developing and marketing rapid and automated methods for microbiological analysis of food, water and the environment.

About 100 technicians, researchers, government regulators and inspectors from the United States and abroad were in attendance, including international speakers and participants from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France, the U.K. and Sweden.

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