USDA awards $450K to College of Agriculture for food safety research

By Joan Kite

 NASHVILLE, Tenn(TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University has been awarded $450,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food safety research.

Dr. Agnes Kilonzo-Nthenge

The grant from the USDA’s Agricultural Food and Research Initiative will be used by TSU’s College of Agriculture to pursue an integrated approach to mitigate antimicrobial resistance in cattle and poultry, and help establish stewardship programs for small and medium-sized ranchers.

“We’re delighted that we’re able to get funding to continue our research and outreach projects on antimicrobial resistance of microorganisms in agricultural lands,” said Dr. Agnes Kilonzo-Nthenge, an associate research professor in the College’s Department of Human Sciences and the grant’s principal investigator. “Our goal is to educate small and medium-sized cattle and poultry producers to better understand antibiotic resistance factors on farms and maximize their profits in their production systems.”

The emergence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in animal production systems has become a major challenge to public health. Every year, at least 23,000 people die in the United States due to infections caused by microorganisms that are resistant to antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumers’ increasing demand for antibiotic-free meat is influencing meat producers and processors to find other ways to provide meat that is both free from disease and antibiotics. The Food and Drug Administration, responding to concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria, is working with drug and meat companies to find alternative ways to keep livestock healthy and meat safe for the consumer.

“Unless small and medium-sized producers are provided with the latest knowledge from scientific research and education in judicious use of antibiotics, they will not be competitive in the meat industry,” said Dr. Kilonzo-Nthenge.

“A comprehensive understanding of best management practices and the correlation between antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the use of antimicrobials in agriculture is vital in developing strategies and interventions to minimize the spread of resistance. We can help the farmer choose production methods that will reduce risk of disease in their livestock while ensuring their profits.”

TSU officials say the research is timely, considering the foodborne outbreaks that have been occurring in certain parts of the country. Earlier this month, the CDC announced a multistate outbreak of salmonella linked to pre-cut melons. Before that, there was a recall on Romaine lettuce contaminated with E. coli.

TSU’s College of Ag held two workshops this month to address food safety and recently added several professors to do research in that area.

“TSU is taking the lead … to see what is really causing those outbreaks, and how we can prevent them,” said Dr. Ankit Patras, one of the new Ag professors and workshop organizer.

To learn more about TSU’s College of Ag, visit


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