Campus News

Scientist studies salmonella in ready-to-eat, dry foods

UGA food scientist Joseph Frank has been awarded a $499,998 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to determine the risks associated with salmonella in dry and ready-to-eat foods.

Frank’s grant is one of 17 research projects funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Each project aims to improve food safety by helping control microbial and chemical contamination in various foods.

Salmonella is a bacterium that causes an estimated 1 million cases of foodborne illness in the U.S. each year, said Frank, a researcher with the ­College of Agricultural and ­Environmental Sciences. Close to 20,000 people are hospitalized, and some 400 die due to salmonellosis each year.

Poultry, eggs, raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices are common sources of salmonellosis. Cooking and pasteurization kill the bacterium in these foods-but not in dry and ready-to-eat foods.

In 2009, almost 400 people in 42 states were sickened after eating contaminated peanut butter. Over the past 10 years, numerous salmonella cases have been associated with the consumption of foods like peanut butter, chocolate candies, dairy powders and nuts.

In his Athens laboratory, Frank will use the grant funds to determine the chemistry makeup of these foods and how that affects the survival of salmonella.

His overall goal is to develop predictive models, or a risk assessment, for salmonella survival in dry and/or ready-to-eat foods.

“This is advanced research,” he said. “We will come up with a means for regulatory agencies in the food industry to better assess the risks of people getting ill from foods that might be contaminated.

“In the end,” said Frank, “we will have a tool that will allow the industry to assign a risk number on food products, like one person in every million will fall ill from eating the product.”