Health Observance

Freshen up on food safety

Remember to clean, separate, cook and chill during National Food Safety Education Month — and every other month
Connor O'Hara
Sept. 3, 2022

Late last night, I woke up feeling hungry. I walked over to the fridge remembering I had purchased some ground beef the previous week.  As I removed it from the Ziploc, I noticed it was particularly gray.  What to do in a time of need? 

Many of us have been here before. Some of us role the dice and are lucky. For others, the consequences can make that late-night bite not worth it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that annually some 48 millon people acquire foodborne illnesses, with more than 100,000 needing to be hospitalized and 3,000 dying.  

There are many different pathogens that can cause food poisoning, including bacteria, parasites and even viruses. Common ones include Norovirus, Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus and Campylobacter.  Others, including E. coli and listeria, can cause severe illness and lead to hospitalization.  

Not everyone who comes into contact with these pathogens will get sick: Good news for most healthy adults.  However, for individuals who are young, elderly or have compromised immune systems, there is a greater chance for symptoms to arise and for serious illness.  

Common symptoms of food poisoning include a stomach ache, nausea, fever, gastrointestinal discomfort and vomiting; however, other symptoms also occur and may take hours or days to develop after contact with a contaminated food or surface. The CDC has excellent resources on the most likely symptoms and sources of common pathogens, as well as signs to go see a doctor. 

Although many of us do not see foodborne illness as something likely to happen to us, good habits can protect us and others.  The recent Salmonella outbreak and subsequent peanut butter recall has me scanning the numbers on every tub of Jif (there were 16 illnesses and 2 hospitalizations across 12 states)! The CDC recommends following four simple steps: clean, separate, cook and chill

Research highlights

Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.

Inflammatory signaling in bacterial sepsis: Researchers across the United States collaborated in an effort to better understand the effects of the enzyme mitogen-activated protein kinase phosphatase 1 (called Mkp-1 for short) on immune function and defense of mice infected with E. coli.  When this enzyme is knocked down, there is an enhanced mortality in animals and heightened bacterial burden.  The researchers screened RNA sequences from large datasets to identify proteins that may affect this phenotype.  They found that infection with E. coli dramatically enhanced the expression of programmed death-ligand 1 and that deficiency of Mkp-1 enhanced the expression of this protein, influencing the adaptive immune response of compromised mice and contributing to mortality.  Read the paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Most of us know that Salmonella can cause diarrhea. But Salmonella Typhi and Salmonella Paratyphi can cause typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever.

Oxidative stress activates Salmonella genes: Scientists in Colorado explored a particular gene cluster in Salmonella to better understand the expression of genes that regulate the type III secretion system that allows for the bacteria to become pathogenic.  They found that oxidative stress from reactive oxygen species stimulates the transcription of genes related to this secretion system and may even allow the pathogen to fight antimicrobial activity.  Read the paper in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Food science careers

Colorful research in the food industry: Careers columnist Courtney Chandler careers columnist interviews a scientist who works for a company that develops natural colorings for the food and beverage industry.

Job variety and stability in the food and beverage industry: Careers columnist Courtney Chandler talked to Jody Renner–Nantz of DDW, The Color House, a global manufacturer of natural colors.

Tales from the 'Food Science Snob': Ever wondered how astronaut food is made? How to brew kombucha? Are you a foodie? Careers columnist Martina G. Efeyini talked to Ariel Carter to learn about her experience as an early career food scientist.

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Connor O'Hara

Connor O’Hara is a graduate student in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the School of Pharmacy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Outside of his research, he enjoys a tall pint at his local pub and the company of good friends. 

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