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Salmonella Stronger than Previously Perceived

Update Date: Apr 10, 2013 09:45 AM EDT
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Food contamination and bacterial infections threaten the health of millions of consumers. The recent recall from several food companies this year, such as Special K cereal and Farm Rich frozen snacks, have left many worried over what types of bacteria are lurking in their foods. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in every six Americans suffer from some form of stomach virus or infection due to food contamination per year. Research has been looking into a specific bacterium, Salmonella in order to understand how to fight the infection better. This new study found that Salmonella might be more resilient than previously believed.

The researchers from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute wanted to observe how Salmonella resisted certain antibacterial medications and use that understanding of underlying mechanisms to help curb future outbreaks of the infection. The researchers found that the role of biofilms, which are groups of microorganisms, plays an important part in the preservation of Salmonella. The researchers stated that not only do biofilms protect Salmonella from heat and sanitizers, they also prevent Salmonella from dying in severely dry conditions and within the normal human digestive system.

"Biofilms are an increasing problem in food processing plants serving as a potential source of contamination," said assistant professor of Food Science and Technology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Monica Ponder. "We have discovered that Salmonella in biofilms survive on dried foods much better than previously thought, and because of this are more likely to cause disease."

Ponder added "Most people expect to find Salmonella on raw meats but don't consider that it can survive on fruits, vegetables or dry products, which are not always cooked." Before this study's findings, people thought that dry products were safe because dry conditions normally stop microbial growth. However, this is not always the case for Salmonella, which poses a larger threat due to its resilience.  The recent outbreaks of Salmonella have been more concentrated in the dry foods section, which includes nuts, cereals, powdered milk and pet food.

The researchers found that although Salmonella does not die in dry conditions, it does stop reproducing, which prevents it from becoming a widespread condition.

The study as published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology

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