Role: HQP Scholar
Project: Survivability and persistence of Salmonella strains and serovars in low moisture foods and their control mechanisms
Department: Department of Food Science (OAC)
What inspired you to pursue your current degree?
Food has always been a passion of mine and after high school I was employed as a technician at a rice research institution. Here, I was amazed to learn about the transformation of food production systems which changed from individual farms and homes to a massive and global system, which utilizes interdisciplinary food sciences to ensure safe, nutritious and abundant food. From this point, I furthered my studies in Agriculture and Food Safety where I was able to witness the impact of science and technology on the food industry as I learned how to improve food quality and safety, the addition and preservation of nutrients, the removal of toxins, reduction of waste and food loss, seasonal availability of specific foods, and global distribution. For years I have witnessed the accomplishments of food scientists; however, there still exist a number of challenges within the food industry that can threaten the food chain. It has long been my desire to be part of this scientific community who proactively seek food safety solutions to ensure global sustainability and nutrition security.
What about your research area excites you?
Microbes are essential to all life on earth. However, some microbes found in food can cause severe illness and even death. What is interesting in my research is that microbial pathogens are not usually found in low moisture foods since it has a low water activity which is required for the proliferation of food pathogens. However, Salmonella a common food pathogen has the ability to survive in low moisture foods for months to years. Multiple outbreaks of low moisture food such as cereals, grains and processed product such as peanut butter have been reported contaminated with Salmonella. Investigating the survival mechanisms of Salmonella in low moisture foods will definitely be a groundbreaking discovery that will revolutionized the food industry.
What challenges do you find in your research, and how do you try to overcome them?
One challenge I find in this research is that this study will be conducted in the laboratory and may not necessarily reflect the natural conditions where the organism thrives. Factors such as the interaction between certain bacteria species in the natural environment may also impact the survivability of these organisms which may prove difficult to replicate in the lab. So the challenge will be to integrate the theoretical model predictions from the lab into the natural settings. To overcome this challenge new technologies such as whole genome sequencing, genomic profiling will be used as it will allow us to view these pathogens in more complex systems so that growth predictions can be more accurate.
How would you describe your research and the implications of your project?
The presence and survival of bacterial pathogens in low moisture foods provide a continuing challenge to the food industry. My research is to investigate the survivability of Salmonella in low moisture foods and their control mechanisms. The objectives of this research are to investigate the growth kinetics of Salmonella in low moisture foods including Walnuts, Sunflower, and Wheat, by developing microbial survival data of Salmonella in the three foods, followed by the analysis of the data using artificial intelligence approaches to describe the behaviour of the bacteria via predictive mathematical growth models.
For some low moisture food products control measures that aim at preventing contamination are considered the most appropriate. These control measures start as early as in the field by implementing good agricultural practices, followed by good manufacturing practices and good hygienic practices and the utilization of programs such as hazard analysis critical control point as well as prevention practices in retail markets and food service can help in preventing the spread of pathogens. However, as we know pathogens such as Salmonella can still survive in the low moisture foods. By determining how Salmonella is able to survive in low moisture foods, it will provide us with insight into the control strategies of this dangerous food pathogen.
What are three of your favourite activities outside the lab?
The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the way I spend my time. I have never been one to cook much less find it a hobby; however, during the lockdown I have found a new passion in experimenting in the kitchen. After the lockdown, I had a yearning for travelling; it didn’t have to be a different country. I wanted to go places I had never visited even if it was in my homeland, interact with various cultures, and of course explore different tastes. Today, even though most of my hours are spent doing research, I still find the time to do the things that I once taken for granted.
What is one important thing you have learned during the pandemic?
One important thing I learned during the pandemic is that it offers a rare chance to look at the flaws in our food system and so we may reform the food system. During the pandemic there was a disruption of food production and processing and transport. This greatly affected developing nations as some people were experienced exacerbated poverty and malnutrition. Even in developed countries issues such as a labor shortage in the food sector during the height of the pandemic, lack of agri-tourism which supplemented income for farmers and an enormous food waste due to lack of distribution in the global market. However, as unfortunate as the pandemic was it provides us with an opportunity to identify issues within our food system and creating structural changes that can make the food system more sustainable, resilient and sustainable.