Clemson researcher gets $570K to study food safety in child centers

January 23, 2009

CLEMSON, SC – January 23, 2009 — A Clemson University researcher has received a $577,000 federal grant to fight an invisible enemy in child-care centers.

The enemies are bacteria and other food-borne microbes that cause illnesses. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded food safety specialist Angela Fraser, an associate professor in the Clemson Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, a three-year grant for improving the food handling, hygiene and sanitation in child-care settings in North and South Carolina.

We need to be increasingly aware of an invisible enemy — bacteria and viruses — which can be on our food, hands and on surfaces in the places we eat out or spend time, said Fraser. Bacteria and viruses can lead to serious illnesses, especially for the very young or old. Child-care centers present an excellent opportunity to fight back. Child-care workers and food-safety educators are a great team to work with and we look forward to supporting efforts to keep our kids safe from food-related illnesses.

The risk of food-borne sickness is a significant public health problem. Illnesses include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, fever, headache or fatigue. Most people recover within days, but some food-borne illness can cause long-term health problems or even death for babies, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, sick people and those with weak immune systems.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 5,000 deaths and 76 million illnesses each year are directly linked to food-borne pathogens.

Infants and children 5 years old and younger are at greater risk of contracting a severe food-borne illness than other population groups, according to Fraser. Her research plan notes that children cared for outside the home are more likely to experience diarrheal disease than those cared for in their family home. In the United States, 11.6 million (63 percent) of the 18.5 million children who are under 5 were reported to be in some type of regular child-care arrangement.

Fraser will be working with food-safety experts Sheryl Cates of the Research Triangle Institute in Durham, N.C., and Lee-Ann Jaykus of N.C. State University in Raleigh. They are gathering information from 100 licensed child-care facilities in the Carolinas. Researchers will observe food-handling, hygiene and sanitation practices of child-care workers and take samples from child-care workers’ hands and surfaces for specific pathogens and levels of microbes.

The information will be used to develop training for educators who provide food-safety training to child-care workers. The teaching materials will be developed, delivered, evaluated and disseminated via the FightBAC! Web site — — created by the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

The partnership brings together representatives from industry associations, professional societies in food science, nutrition and health consumer groups and federal agencies to educate the public about safe food-handling practices needed to keep food safe from bacteria and prevent food-borne illness.