New technologies aim to keep salmonella off the menu

A new software program can predict the precise amount of salmonella lurking in pork before it hits the supermarket shelves, according to researchers. 

Developed by the UK's Institute of Food Research, the US Department of Agriculture, and Australia's Food Safety Centre, the program traces the cause of salmonella, or any bacterial contamination, along the food supply chain, which the researchers say can be difficult due to varying environmental conditions.

The database, dubbed Combase, pulls together microbial growth data in various environments taking note of temperature, pH, and water activity and alerting users to predicted contamination levels during the meat packaging process. Research on the technology was published earlier this year, and food industry magazine Food Production Daily reported on the new software on May 2.

While meat packaging plants rely on sensors to get readings on pathogen contamination, a new nanotechnology-based biosensor announced in March and being developed by US researchers aims to give the industry a boost. The biosensor technology uses carbon nanofibers to detect bacteria at an early stage - and the scientists say they plan to integrate it into a handheld electronic device for detecting pathogens anytime, anywhere at industrial processing sites.

Other advances in food safety include a new sensor film being devised by researchers at the University of Rochester in the US. The film relies on a sand-grain-sized silicon wafer that can differentiate between two classes of bacteria, Gram-positive and Gram-negative, and "stains" them different colors. The scientists aim to use the film as a plastic wrap, for example, around raw meat that could change color cautioning when the meat is contaminated.

In the meantime, there are several low-tech ways to avoid getting infected with salmonella and other food-borne bacteria from pork, which often carries the parasite trichinella spiralis as well.

- When shopping, keep all meats separate to avoid cross-contamination from juices.
- Pork should be placed immediately in the freezer or fridge to prevent the growth of bacteria; never refreeze thawed pork.
- When handling pork, use a meat-only cutting board and always thoroughly wash anything (knives, other utensils, hands) that has touched raw pork
- When cooking pork, make sure it has a temperature of 160 degrees F (71 degrees C) and use a meat thermometer.

Read more on the new software:

Access an abstract of the study in the International Journal of Food Microbiology:

For tips on safe methods for cooking pork: