The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded an Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station researcher a $200,000 grant to learn more about how much moisture is required to allow bacterial survival in low-moisture foods.
The institute recognizes the dangers of pathogens in low-moisture foods as just two months ago the FDA confirmed five different strains of Cronobacter sakazakii bacteria at an Abbott Nutrition plant in Sturgis, MI, that makes infant formula that was linked to four illnesses and two deaths.
Jennifer Acuff, the awarded researcher and assistant professor in food safety and microbiology with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, says her research will help develop foundational knowledge on how bacteria persist in low-moisture food processing environments.
“We don’t really know how much water or nutrients are required to sustain these contaminating populations, but we know they can persist in the dry environment for a long time,” Acuff said.
According to Acuff, the goal of the grant is to develop protocols for a laboratory that simulate these persistent bacteria so that they can study how to prevent their formation or mitigate the risks once they do form in a low-moisture food processing environment.