Aside from the occasional opening and closing of a refrigerator door and the padding of footsteps to and from the laboratory bench, it's a quiet May morning in a Food and Drug Administration laboratory in suburban Washington, D.C. Six or so researchers working alone or in a group of two or three prepare test tubes, calibrate instruments, and analyze chemical data.
Though their conversation is minimal, their work is not: These researchers, employed by FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, are addressing one of today's most pressing health concerns: antibiotic resistance in humans. The researchers hope to answer such questions as "What causes microbial pathogens in food animals to develop antibiotic resistance? "Can scientists overcome this resistance? "How can this transfer of resistant pathogens to humans be minimized?"
At other sites in the Washington area, research is focused on such important health issues as lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes and some fruits that may help lower the risk for certain diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), and "biofilms," groups of bacteria often encased in a protective-like layer that cannot be penetrated by standard cleaning solutions.
This research is being done under the auspices of the Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN). Through research and education, the institute, a cooperative program between FDA and the University of Maryland, will help ensure the safety and nutritional quality of the U.S. food supply. By pooling their resources, the university and FDA look to gain both professional and public-health benefits.
FDA hopes the studies will add to its scientific knowledge and will contribute to future regulatory decisions. This plan is consistent with the agency's longstanding policy of relying on science as the basis of all agency decisions. "JIFSAN provides a unique approach to increasing FDA's science base," says David Lineback, Ph.D., JIFSAN director.
The education portion will focus on training various professional and regulatory groups--including those in foreign countries--in key food safety and nutrition practices.
Created in 1996, JIFSAN is one of two such FDA food programs centralized in institutions of higher education with both government and industry involvement. The other program is the National Center for Food Safety and Technology (NCFST) in Summit-Argo, Ill. Created in 1988, this consortium of government, industry, and academia is financially supported by FDA and the Illinois Institute of Technology, the IIT Research Institute, and the University of Illinois. (See "Food Safety Research Center Offers Taste of the Future" in the December 1991 FDA Consumer.)
"To a large extent, the future development of food regulatory science and policies for the United States is dependent upon the success of these programs," Lineback says.
Both JIFSAN and NCFST are set up to allow researchers to remain affiliated with their respective employers, although personnel may work in facilities belonging to another group. Also, each organization has an internal review board, as well as an advisory committee of experts from industry, academia, government, and consumer organizations.
NCFST focuses on the safety of food processing and packaging technologies, applied microbiology, and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety programs. JIFSAN focuses on a range of food safety and nutrition issues, including risk analysis, food composition, toxins and microbial pathogens, animal drug residues, and animal health. "JIFSAN will be a more all-encompassing program," Lineback says.
Also, JIFSAN serves as a World Health Organization Food Safety Collaborating Center, focusing on risk assessment of contaminants in food and mycotoxin analysis. Mycotoxins are poisonous substances formed by mold in wheat, corn, peanuts, and other major food crops. …