Penn. schools get grant to study shiga-toxin producing E. coli

The Souderton Area School District received $250,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday to help fund a career-exploration program for students who want safe food.

stec.cap.SoudertonThe money is part of a $25 million grant named after a bacteria commonly associated with foodborne illnesses.

The STEC-CAP grant, also known as the Shiga toxin Escherichia coli Coordinated Agricultural Project, will connect Souderton students to researchers across the country whose objectives are to identify and eliminate pathogenic E. coli on food, said Kyle D. Longacre, the high school’s assistant principal.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln directs the research, which involves participants from 13 colleges and universities.

According to Longacre, a partnership between the USDA and Souderton schools has prospered since 2014 when 10 high school teachers were trained about food safety methods, bacterial growth labs and the latest research related to Shiga toxin E. coli.

The money will also help Souderton’s Pathway 360 program, which places motivated students in the professional workplace with mentors.

Longacre, who leads Pathway 360, said the high school would use the money to spread the word about food safety and to get students to consider a career in food science and agriculture.

“It’s been a tremendously creative program,” said Dr. Rodney Moxley, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Pathway 360 has its own inherent accomplishments in that you are helping students to get jobs.”

According to the district, the money also will help fund the possible expansion of partnerships with Upper Perkiomen, Norristown and other school districts.

Longacre said students in Pathway 360 take part in an initiative called “Message to the Masses” in which Souderton’s Design, Marketing and Communications club partnered with three advertising agencies to create slogans for the USDA’s program on safe handling of beef.

Students in the design and marketing club presented their ideas to advisers following Monday’s announcement of the grant. The ideas were then critiqued by advisers with the STEC-CAP grant program. Longacre said the advisers will select the best idea, and the USDA will fly five or more Souderton students to Nebraska in June to present their ideas to a national council of STEC-CAP advisers.