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K-State Today

April 14, 2011

New center of excellence uses K-State's expertise to make food safer for kids

Submitted by Bethany Bohn

Using an interdisciplinary team of Kansas State University experts and leadership from department of hospitality management and dietetics faculty, the newly-funded Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs will conduct food safety research that impacts child nutrition programs across the United States.

"Preparing and serving safe food to our nation's children should be a priority for all of us involved in the food chain," said Kevin Roberts, assistant professor of hospitality management and dietetics and director for the new center.

More than 2.2 billion meals and snacks are served annually through Food and Nutrition Service-funded programs.

"The opportunity exists for large-scale food-borne outbreaks to occur with serious complications. The center's organization will allow it to be flexible enough to react to food safety crisis and discoveries as they happen," Roberts said.

"K-State is the ideal spot for the center," he said. "We can draw from more than 50 nationally and internationally recognized faculty from five colleges and 13 departments involved in food safety research. These scientists and teachers will also help get results of our research to a variety of targeted groups, such as policymakers, practitioners and school food service directors."

The center joins other K-State food safety research hubs involved in food safety and food security such as the Bio-Security Research Institute, the National Agriculture Biosecurity Center and the Food Safety Consortium.

"The Center of Excellence for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition Programs is an important addition to K-State's work as a national leader in food safety research and education," said Kirk Schulz, K-State president. "Earning this Center of Excellence also shows K-State is performing the caliber of research needed to become a top 50 public research university by 2025."

The center's leadership team consists of Carol Shanklin, dean of graduate school and professor; Kevin Sauer, assistant professor of hospitality management and dietetics; and Junehee Kwon, associate professor of hospitality management and dietetics. The department is the administrative home for the new center.

K-State faculty who will serve on the advisory board are: Curtis Kastner, director, Food Science Institute; Dan Thomson, director, Beef Cattle Institute; Fadi Aramouni, extension specialist; Marty Vanier, director of operations, National Agriculture Biosecurity; Daniel Y.C. Fung, microbiology and rapid methods specialist; Paula Peters, assistant director, family and consumer sciences extension, department of human nutrition; Sandy Proctor, extension specialist; Laura Brannon, psychologist specializing in behavior change theories, especially in food safety research; and Candice Shoemaker, department of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources.

The board and research advisory task force also will include professionals in child nutrition and health programs and school food service suppliers and distributors.

Roberts said the first project, starting immediately, is a national needs assessment for food safety research in nutrition programs so the center can set priorities.

The second project, to assure that the center is responsive to those involved in child nutrition programs, is called An Expert Panel Review of the Status and Effectiveness of Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Implementation since the 2004 Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act.

Future research projects will involve interdisciplinary teams from food safety entities in agriculture, veterinary medicine and arts and sciences on campus, Roberts said.

"We welcome the opportunity to develop a one-of-a-kind world class center to test and solve real-world school food safety issues in both urban and rural school settings," said Virginia Moxley, dean of the College of Human Ecology.

"The department of hospitality management and dietetics has a long-standing history of food service management research. Our professors are both pioneers and leaders in research and in training of graduate and undergraduate students with interests in food service," she said.

"What better use for our expertise than making food eaten at school safe for children."

FNS funds the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Summer Food Service, After School Snack Programs and the Child and Adult Care Feeding Programs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 48 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually in the U.S.