AFRI in ACTION: Probiotics and Food Safety

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Probiotics and Food SafetySalmonella is the most common cause of food poisoning in the US. Every year, food tainted with the bacteria sickens one million people, resulting in 1,900 hospitalizations and 380 deaths. Chicken and other animals carry Salmonella in their intestines and contamination can occur when they are slaughtered. With the support of a grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), Dr. Jung-Lim Lee is pursuing novel solutions to this challenge in one of the most unexpected of places – a Korean side dish. Dr. Lee and his team of researchers at Delaware State University are examining whether a type of bacteria found in kimchi, a dish made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables, could be used to mitigate the amount of Salmonella in the chicken’s digestive tracts. In his research, Dr. Lee has prepared several types of kimchi in his laboratory and, once properly fermented, took cultures of the lactic acid bacteria that give the dish its unique flavor. Previous research found that lactic acid bacteria and other beneficial bacteria (often referred to as probiotics) release chemicals that kill off Salmonella and other harmful bacteria so that the probiotic cultures can thrive. Dr. Lee found that several kimchi varieties made in the lab yielded bacteria highly effective at lowering the levels of harmful Salmonella in a chicken’s intestines. Chickens with less Salmonella produce meat and other foods with a much lower chance of triggering foodborne illnesses.

“The issue of food safety is important for everyone. As food-borne pathogens keep developing, we need to find new ways to keep people safe.” – Dr. Jung-Lim Lee

The next step in this important research is to take testing of the kimchi bacteria from the lab to the farm and feed probiotic supplements produced in the lab to chickens to see if it keeps them healthier. While Dr. Lee is searching for research grants that would fund this work, he is also conducting additional food safety research, including the development of tools that can quickly detect foodborne pathogens in poultry and fish products and a wide variety of other foods.

Photo: Hyunwoo Sun