Safe to eat? Ask your smartphone

Safe to eat? Ask your smartphone
August 8, 2018

Adam Salhaney, a senior food science major and Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFE) “summer scholar” from Holliston, won first place honors in the undergraduate research competition at the Institute of Food Technology’s annual meeting (IFT18) in Chicago from July 15-18. 

His poster, “Rapid detection and quantification of bacteria in ground chicken using an optical imaging approach,” describes work he did with his advisor, analytical chemist and associate professor of food science Lili He, using a new approach for testing food samples for bacterial contamination. 

The standard method for culturing bacteria from food samples, known as an aerobic plate count (APC), takes two days. Some others are faster but not as sensitive or reliable, because ingredients in the food can interfere with them. By contrast, her lab’s method is both sensitive and reliable, and it can provide results in less than two hours. 

Salhaney says, “My experience at IFT18 was incredible. I was able to network with some amazing people within the food science industry and I am very excited to have come in first place in the competition.” 

For this work, Salhaney and He used a sensitive and reliable bacteria-detecting chip developed in He’s lab that can test the bacterial load in a food sample. The chip, used with a light microscope for optical detection, relies on what He calls a “capture molecule,” 3-mercaptophenylboronic acid (3-MBPA) that attracts and binds to any bacteria. 

Over the past academic year, they adapted this optical detection method for possible home use with a smart phone microscope adapter that is widely available online for about $30. This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture. 

The CAFE Summer Scholars Program offers paid summer internships for undergraduates who have an opportunity to make significant contributions that advanced the design, implementation and goals of an existing research or extension project. Projects reflect the broad portfolio of programs supported by CAFE, and students spend their summer in faculty research laboratories, offices and field stations, or communities where extension professionals are working with citizens. It is supported by the campus, USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture and private funds. 

Read on: 
Research that Matters video demonstrates new bacteria detection method 

Also at the 2018 Institute of Food Technology meeting: 

Food science doctoral students Amadeus Driando Ahnan and Mitchell Culler won first place in the USDA Smart Snacks for Kids Product Development Competition. Their product, called Tempgrams, are tangram-shaped tempeh, apple & honey wafers. The snacks are a good source of fiber and protein, low in fat and sodium, vegetarian and gluten free. 
2018 IFTSA student competition winners