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Salmonella response built on defense tech

By Jenni Spinner+

19-Oct-2013

Software built by Battelle uses predictive modeling to help mitigate risk and plan response to Salmonella contamination.
Software built by Battelle uses predictive modeling to help mitigate risk and plan response to Salmonella contamination.

Applied-science experts Battelle have built software that, instead of reacting to pathogen outbreaks, takes a predictive, proactive approach.

PRIA (Probabilistic Risk Informed Analysis) is a modeling tool designed to give poultry producers and safety professionals the chance to evaluate their system’s vulnerability, and virtually test out mitigation strategies before an event hits.

Rather than relying on static data loaded into spreadsheets, the PRIA system reportedly gives results more quickly, more on point, and easier to document for reporting purposes.

Proactive approach

Battelle senior research scientist Brian Hawkins told FoodProductionDaily.com that the organization originally developed the technology to help the US government predict and plan for the aftermath of a nuclear plant meltdown, before the structures are even built.

You’ve got a wealth of data to base such things on,” Hawkins told FPD. “Assessing the risk of a nuclear plant meltdown is a lot harder after the fact.”

From there, the software was extrapolated to help predict outcome and plan response to terrorist attacks against power plants, the US food supply and other vulnerable entities.

Low chance, high risk

The aftermath of a foodborne pathogen attack have one major factor in common with terrorist attacks: the odds of one hitting are relatively low, but the stakes are high. Examining data and variables involved in processing can help reduce the risk further, and minimize exposure should such an event occur.

The next application tackled by Battelle’s team of scientist was Salmonella outbreaks. Hawkins said that tweaking the software to account for accidental contamination of poultry was not much of a leap from using it for terrorist-caused outbreaks.

It doesn’t matter if that contaminant was intentionally introduced, or unintentionally,” Hawkins said. “The number of people that will get sick is the same.”

Risky system

The first vulnerable food system tackled by the software: poultry production.

Chicken is one of the riskiest foods, pound for pound, in terms of contamination,” said Hawkins.

 When predicting the potential impact of an outbreak and helping to optimize response, the PRIA software takes every factor imaginable into account: defeathering, immersion, chilling, packaging, transport and beyond. The idea is to examine every potential opportunity for contamination, from a chicken’s hatching to the time it’s served at the dinner table.

With such robust information, the PRIA software serves producers and safety staff in a number of ways. In addition to pinpointing potential problem areas to mitigate risk, the software can help optimize response should an outbreak happen.

PRIA is customized for poultry processors, but it reportedly can be adapted to provide risk models for other commonly contaminated foods, such as leafy greens and beef products. Further, Hawkins said, it can be adjusted to help processors fall in line with coming regulatory requirements for quantitative risk assessments, such as with the US Food Safety Modernization Act.

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