Friendly bacteria may be introduced to bagged salad leaves to help ward off the possibility of salmonella and listeria outbreaks.

University of Queensland researchers have entered a partnership with Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited to investigate the proposal.

The two-year, $800,000 project will use friendly lactic acid bacteria discovered at UQ and commercialised by Uniquest.

Associate Professor Mark Turner of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said more than 300 people in Victoria and South Australia suffered food poisoning in Salmonella outbreaks this year linked with bagged salads and sprouts.

“These recent Salmonella outbreaks have had a significant impact on the vegetable industry,” he said.

“A low level of pathogen contamination can be difficult to control and methods to remove or kill pathogens, such as washes and chlorine treatments, are only partially effective.

“Our project aims to commercialise new strains of bacteria that already naturally occur on vegies.

“These can assist salad producers improve the food safety and health benefits of their fresh and fresh-cut salad products, adding value to them and protecting the health of consumers.

“We expect this approach will provide an added safety hurdle which can be used across a wide range of fresh and processed vegies.”

Dr Turner said the project was working with friendly bacteria (named ProbiSafe) which strongly inhibit growth of Salmonella and Listeria, and provide a new, clean green alternative to prevent illness.

This work extends a previous UQ project funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited where a large collection of lactic acid bacteria were screened for activity against Salmonella and Listeria.

“The bacteria we are working with have a long history of safe human consumption and are already used in many food fermentations, including dairy, beverages, meat and vegetables,” he said.

“Higher numbers of the good bacteria means significantly less growth of bad bacteria.

“They can be considered ‘probiotics’ for vegies.”

Horticulture Innovation Australia is the grower-owned research and development corporation for Australia’s $9 billion horticulture industry. It invests more than $100 million annually in research and development, and marketing.

UQ researchers involved in the project include Dr Paul Dennis, Professor Bhesh Bhandari, Dr Nidhi Bansal, Dr Sangeeta Prakash and Dr Van Ho.

Australian Food Safety Week last week had the theme of ‘Raw and risky’, highlighting food poisoning outbreaks in recent years linked to foods such as unpasteurised milk, raw eggs, bean/seed sprouts, frozen berries and lettuce.

Each year an estimated one million Australians visit a doctor with food poisoning, 32,000 require  hospital admission and 86 people die.

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