Food science and technology research helps to ensure safer global food supply

Monica Ponder can replicate contamination challenges facing industry food processors in the biosecurity level 2 pilot plant.

Monica Ponder can replicate contamination challenges facing industry food processors in the biosecurity level 2 pilot plant.

Monica Ponder, assistant professor of food science and technology, is making the spice supply safer for U.S. consumers.

Spices are typically grown in developing countries where there are numerous opportunities for tainting the product due to poorer sanitation practices. Additionally, the minimal processing of spices after harvest presents a contamination risk for common pathogens, including salmonella. The pathogen can adhere to berry-like spices such as peppercorns during processing, and contamination risk increases exponentially when spices are added to finished products, such as cured meats.

The research Ponder is performing in the new building is helping to discover how and why spices become contaminated with disease-causing bacteria. She is studying how the pathogen travels through the supply chain tightly adhered to whole spices within biofilms. Biofilms formed during growth or during processing may improve the survival of salmonella by encasing it within layers of polysaccharides, protecting the cells.

“The new facility will allow companies to find vulnerabilities in elimination and containment strategies in a controlled environment,” she said.

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