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K-State Today

April 14, 2011

USDA announces award of the Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs to K-State

Submitted by Bethany Bohn

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that Kansas State University was selected to establish the Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs. The center will provide science-based support to improve the safety of foods provided through the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, or FNS, nutrition assistance programs, particularly those served in schools and child care settings.

"Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our nation's children and we must do everything we can to ensure that kids are being served safe, high quality meals," said Vilsack. "The Center of Excellence will provide research on important topics such as produce safety and evaluation of school food safety programs."

The Center of Excellence will provide a new and holistic research approach to determine how new initiatives, such as farm-to-school purchasing and school gardens, and emerging science affect food safety in FNS school and child care programs. A multidisciplinary approach, including both basic and applied research, will draw expertise from fields such as foodservice management, food safety, food microbiology, agricultural production, education, and the social sciences. The center will be funded with a two-year, $1.6 million grant and will open as soon as the grant is awarded.

"We are excited about this new opportunity to support research focused on the unique food safety aspects of our programs," said Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. “Research conducted by the Center will provide important information that we can use to improve programs and to develop education and training opportunities for school nutrition and child care employees. Kansas State University has a long history of research and education related to food service management, and will provide excellent leadership for school and child care food safety research."

Many of the individuals served in FNS nutrition assistance programs are children, who are vulnerable to foodborne illness. To address this, USDA has put a number of initiatives in place to promote food safety for our children. In partnership with the Agriculture Marketing Service, FNS also conducts Produce Safety University, a series of weeklong workshops focusing on safe handling of fresh produce by school nutrition directors.

The National School Lunch Program is provided in more than 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, serving more than 31 million children each day. About 3.2 million children and 112,000 adults are served daily through the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the school meals programs, that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit USDA for information about FNS and nutrition assistance programs.