Scientist successfully reduces Salmonella in ground meat

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New hope for resolving an old food safety problem has come out of a new meat laboratory at the University of Nevada-Reno where scientists have found a way to reduce Salmonella in ground meat and poultry by 90 percent.

The Salmonella research by assistant professor Amilton de Mello is part of a broad research program that spans the farm-to-table continuum and addresses animal welfare, meat quality and food safety. He presented his work on reducing Salmonella recently the 69th Annual American Meat Science Association conference in San Angelo, TX.

Amilton de Mello presented his findings at the annual American Meat Sciences Association conference. (Photo courtesy of the University of Nevada-Reno)

“We’re excited to be able to show such good results, food safety is an important part of our work and salmonella is one of the most prevalent bacteria in the nation’s food supply,” de Mello said in a university news release.

The reduction of Salmonella — particularly in ground poultry and meat — is a matter of public safety, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports that the pathogen is one of the most common causes of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

Salmonella infection can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps in otherwise healthy people. In people with weakened immune systems, or in young children and the elderly, it can be fatal. Salmonella is estimated to cause a million foodborne illnesses in the United States annually, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

Using bacteriophages, which are natural bacteria predators commonly found in the environment and harmless to plants, humans and other animals, de Mello and his team killed four different kinds of Salmonella.

“On the final ground meat products, there was a 10-fold decrease of salmonella,” de Mello said. “The results are very encouraging and we’re hoping this can be adopted by the meat industry to increase food safety.”

First the researchers added four types of Salmonella to refrigerated meat and poultry trim. Then they applied a treatment of Myoviridae bacteriophages before grinding and testing the meat and poultry.  The bacteriophages, sometimes referred to simply as “phages,” invaded the cells of the salmonella bacteria, destroying them.

In addition to a new lab where de Mello has been working since joining the university in December 2015, the school has three other meat labs, an agriculture experiment station and a USDA-inspected meat processing plant.

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