Q&A with Alissa Welsher, B.S., M.S., Ph.D Technical Advisor – Food Safety, Elanco

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Tell me about you, your career and time with Elanco.

I attended the University of Pittsburgh for my undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences. I received my Master’s in Poultry Science and PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Arkansas. I did my postdoctoral fellowship with the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture where I studied the effect autophagy has on feed efficiency and heat stress in commercial broilers and other production birds. Following my postdoctoral fellowship, I worked as a Poultry Technical Manager for Adisseo before moving to Elanco. I have worked as a Technical Consultant for the Elanco poultry division for over four years.

What is your role in food safety and what makes your role unique?

I am involved in the pre-harvest food safety interventions and support products from vaccines to insecticides. Some people find it surprising that insecticides are considered a food safety product, but they can play an important role in safeguarding poultry products. Insecticides do more than just kill the insects; they help control and eliminate pests that pose risks to the birds’ health and could potentially contaminate poultry products intended for human consumption.

What are some of the biggest challenges related to food safety that producers are facing?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed framework to control Salmonella in poultry products will be an adjustment for some producers. Many companies have interventions in the plant that help to decrease a lot of the Salmonella the consumer sees, but this new framework attempts to decrease the Salmonella load on the front end, before the birds reach the plant.

Have you been working on any new research? Tell us a little about it.

We recently conducted a study to look at the correlation between beetle loads in a house and feathers on rinses in the same house. The goal was to see if we can use beetles as an indicator of pre-harvest Salmonella load. Our initial hypothesis was that the broiler house beetle populations would influence Salmonella load in birds at the end of the grow-out period.

The study’s two objectives were to quantify the relationship between house-level beetle populations and Salmonella load before processing and compare Salmonella serotypes found in beetles to those found in the plant rise samples. Based on the preliminary data, we can make a correlation between darkling beetle populations and Salmonella load, however, we will need additional samples for greater statistical significance. Currently, we are collecting additional samples on the farm and will move to correlating plant samples next.

The idea of an Integrated Pest Management Plan (IPM) is becoming a more common approach to pest control. Can you tell us about how IPM works and what the benefits are for producers? 

IPM is a holistic approach to pest control that focuses on preventing pest problems by utilizing multiple strategies and techniques. An effective IPM program can address and protect against pest infestations and foodborne pathogens, as well as provide a cleaner environment. It also allows producers to be proactive when controlling pests on-farm or in the plant.

IPM begins with monitoring to help producers understand pest populations they have at their facilities. An IPM plan emphasizes utilizing preventative measures to reduce pest infestations in poultry houses. These measures include proper sanitation practices, such as removal of organic debris, ensuring there is proper ventilation and that grass is kept low near buildings. Producers can also implement biosecurity protocols to reduce pest access to poultry housing. The management of the farm needs to be under control before other measures are taken to manage pest populations. Chemical controls are sometimes necessary in IPM, and if the management of the farm isn’t under control they won’t be as effective.

Implementing IPM can potentially improve overall flock performance and wellbeing and lead to cost savings for producers. By effectively managing pest populations, IPM creates optimal conditions for poultry health and welfare, reduces disease transmission and helps protect against production losses associated with pest infestations.

Do you have any industry observations to share or trend predictions for the coming years?

There will be more of a focus on what can be done on the farm to control Salmonella and attempt to reduce the load going into the plant. This is in part due to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) initiative to reduce Salmonella illness linked to poultry production and processing.

As we learn more about pest management and there is more research done on how insects impact the incoming Salmonella load to the plant, people will continue to see the benefits of implementing IPM and how it can be effective at keeping pest populations under control.

Do you have a favorite poultry show or event?

My favorite poultry event would be the Food Safety Conference and the Poultry Festival hosted by Poultry Federation for Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

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