Researchers at the University of Georgia found that pathogens, such as some types of Salmonella, can survive for at least six months in dry foods like cookies and crackers. The recent study was prompted by an increased number of outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to low-water-activity, or dry foods, a recent article states.
While Salmonella is commonly associated with undercooked meats and can also be found in fruits and vegetables, among things, Larry Beuchat, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and researcher in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, led the study to find out just how long Salmonella bacteria can survive in other foods that are less expected to carry foodborne pathogens.
Published in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers used five different serotypes of Salmonella that had been isolated from foods involved in previous foodborne outbreaks and were known to make people sick. These isolates were also from foods with very low moisture content, the article explains.
Focusing on cookie and cracker sandwiches, the researchers put the Salmonella into four types of fillings found in cookies or crackers and placed them into storage. The researchers used cheese and peanut butter fillings for the cracker sandwiches and chocolate and vanilla fillings for the cookie sandwiches.
After storing, the UGA scientists determined how long Salmonella was able to survive in each filling. While there was survival in all types, the article states that the Salmonella pathogens did not survive as well within the cheese and peanut butter fillings of the cracker sandwiches as it did in the chocolate and vanilla fillings of the cookie sandwiches.
In some cases, the researchers found, the pathogen was able to survive for at least to six months in the cookie sandwiches, which the researchers said they were not expecting to find.
The researchers also noted that these types of foods are the ones you can oftentimes find in grocery stores or vending machines and are common snack for children — who along with the elderly and those with already compromised immune systems — are most susceptible to foodborne illness.
The ability of pathogens to survive in some remarkable settings has researchers considering the next steps for preventing contamination and the outbreaks they may cause.
“The next steps would be to test all ingredients that are used in these foods,” Beuchat said in the article. Now that scientists have proof that Salmonella can thrive in dry conditions, figuring out how to prevent future contamination and future outbreaks is necessary. This will involve testing all ingredients used in those dry foods, which could potentially alter recipes for popular snack foods, he added.
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