Research

Scientists at UGA search for ways to control pathogens on wheat berries

Posted on
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Consumers have long been warned against the hazards of eating raw cookie dough. As more cases of foodborne illness are linked to contaminated wheat flour, University of Georgia food safety experts are touting the risk in a louder, more forceful voice, while searching for ways to eliminate foodborne pathogens on wheat products.

In wheat-related cases, the common carriers of the pathogens are cookie dough, cake batter and raw wheat flour. The most recent outbreak started in May and was linked to wheat flour contaminated with E. coli 026 bacteria. Three brands of contaminated all-purpose flour were found at grocery stores in eight states, to date. So far, 21 cases of E. coli 026 infections have been reported.

In 2005, 26 cases in the U.S. were linked to cake-batter ice cream and in 2008 a cluster of cases in New Zealand were connected to an uncooked baking mixture. In all of these cases, the pathogen was Salmonella. In 2009, an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak resulted from consumption of raw cookie dough.

“In the past, the reason we warned people not to eat cookie dough was not because of the flour, but because of the raw eggs,” said Francisco Diez, director of the UGA Center for Food Safety located on the university’s campus in Griffin, Georgia. “The two main pathogens linked to wheat products are Salmonella and E. coli.”

Diez says these cases could have been prevented if the flour had not been consumed raw.

Beuchat, Diez honored by International Association for Food Protection

Posted on
Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Two University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences food scientists have been presented awards of excellence from the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus Larry Beuchat and Professor Francisco Diez were recognized at the association’s annual meeting held July 21–24 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Beuchat received the Maurice Weber Laboratorian Award in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the laboratory. The award also honors his commitment to the development of innovative and practical analytical approaches in support of food safety.

He joined the Department of Food Science and Technology on the UGA Griffin campus in 1972 and has since published five books and 530 refereed scientific journal articles.

Beuchat is a world authority on the microbiology of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes; methods for detecting yeasts, molds and pathogenic bacteria in foods; metabolic injury of bacteria and fungi; relationships of water activity to microbial growth; antimicrobial compounds in foods; fermented foods; thermal resistance of mold ascospores; and food preservatives.

Most of Beuchat’s research at the UGA Center for Food Safety in Griffin focuses on how food safety issues relate to foods of plant origin.

UGA RESEARCHERS TRAVEL DOWN UNDER TO COLLECT RASPBERRY AND PEACH SEEDS

Posted on
Friday, May 4, 2018

University of Georgia horticulturists Rachel Itle and Dario Chavez recently traveled to Australia to collect seeds from wild raspberries and peaches to bring back to the UGA Griffin campus. As scientists in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Itle and Chavez research Georgia-grown fruit.

Native prairie grasses bred as colorful landscape plants, wildlife habitats

Posted on
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.

Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.

The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.

Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.

“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”

It’s not too late to plant homegrown tomatoes

Posted on
Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bob Westerfield spends his days growing vegetables and watching for problems. As University of Georgia Extension’s consumer vegetable horticulturist, he answers questions from backyard gardeners and Extension agents across the state. In the summer months, most of the questions are about tomatoes.

“I’d say 90 out of 100 vegetable calls I get in the summer are about tomatoes,” said Westerfield. “I’m not a huge fan of eating fresh tomatoes, but those who do say the fresh-grown taste is incredible. I want to love to eat them, but I just don’t like them. But I will eat them cooked, and I love ketchup.”

Plant second crop, or first, now

With Georgia’s long summer growing season, Westerfield says it’s not too late to “grab some transplants and put them in the ground” and enjoy your own homegrown tomato harvest.

“Some folks planted tomatoes early and are pulling tomatoes now. On my farm, we stagger our plantings, so that we have some tomatoes that are almost red and some just in the blooming stage,” he said.

When planting tomatoes, Westerfield says you have to keep your personal preference in mind when selecting a variety. What do you plan to do with the tomatoes? Do you want something easy tomatoes to eat fresh or ones to use for canning?

University of Georgia mobile app helps DOT control roadside weeds

Posted on
Monday, May 18, 2015

In addition to building and maintaining roads, the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) mows grass and kills weeds that obstruct drivers’ views. A University of Georgia scientist has created an app to help DOT agronomists kill weeds quicker, using less chemicals.

Patrick McCullough, a weed scientist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, decided to create the Georgia Roadside Management app after Georgia DOT officials approached him for help.

“The biggest problem they have is fighting invasive weed species, like broomsedge, vaseygrass and Johnsongrass. They are major species, and they are spreading, increasing maintenance costs and, more importantly, reducing safety for motorists,” said McCullough, a UGA researcher based on the campus in Griffin, Georgia.

Ray Dorsey, Georgia DOT agronomist manager, says tall weeds, like Johnsongrass, and invasive weeds, like kudzu, create “sight and distance problems,” especially at driveways and intersections.

“When we do road building, the contractors are required to replace the grass. Our permanent grasses of choice are bahiagrass and bermudagrass because they can help choke out weeds,” he said.

Unmanned drone cameras help UGA scientists document research results

Posted on
Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Georgia House Resolution 744 created a committee to study the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in the state. Created as a result of public concern, the committee will look at the uses of these remote-controlled, airplane-like devices, equipped with cameras and used by law enforcement agencies and other government authorities, to determine whether they invade privacy.

University of Georgia scientist Clint Waltz in Griffin, Georgia, has been using an aerial drone to reduce the amount of time he and his technician spend documenting data in fields. They also use the drone to gather supplemental data through bird’s-eye-view photographs of research plots.

Waltz is uncovering how his research benefits from the use of his drone, or what looks like a miniature helicopter with a camera mounted underneath it.

“Photo documentation is essential to our research, and the drone can take aerial photos of the effects of different fertilizer and pesticide treatments on various grasses,” said Waltz, UGA Extension’s turfgrass specialist. “It can go up 50 or 60 feet and take a photo, which helps us measure treatment effects.”

The drone Waltz uses on the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences campus in Griffin is lightweight, weighing under 5 pounds.

UGA apps bring expert lawn-care advice to mobile devices

Posted on
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Summertime is synonymous with cooking outdoors, taking a dip in the pool and cranking up the lawn mower to begin the arduous task of caring for your home lawn. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension has made the task a little easier through a few mobile apps for Georgia homeowners and green industry professionals alike.

“More and more people rely heavily on their smartphones and mobile devices, so experts in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences created mobile apps based on agricultural topics,” said Patrick McCullough, a UGA Extension weed scientist and developer of several turfgrass-related mobile apps.

McCullough developed a series of turf management apps that include photos of turfgrass varieties, pests, weeds and diseases. There are three versions: Turfgrass Management – Lite; Turfgrass Management – Subscription; and Turfgrass Management Lite (Spanish). The lite and Spanish versions are free. The subscription version costs $19.99 per year and includes the lite version, plus information on pest control applications and a pesticide database.

For the more serious home gardener, the Turfgrass Management Calculator app covers all types of applications, pesticide rates, fertilizer requirements, topdressing sand requirements, and calibration of sprayers and spreaders. It also converts units from standard to metric, includes more than 16,000 pre-programmed calculations and costs just $5.99.

Visiting scientist conducts research on peanut pathogen at UGA Griffin

Posted on
Thursday, August 27, 2015

Maxwell Lamptey is visiting America, specifically Griffin, Georgia, in the hopes of learning new methods to fight aflatoxin — a carcinogen produced by soil fungus that can grow on peanuts — in his home country of Ghana. Lamptey is participating in a short-term training program, from March to September, supported by the Peanut and Mycotoxin Innovation Lab (PMIL), housed at the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

A senior technical officer studying legumes at the Crops Research Institute, Lamptey has been working on the university’s campus in Griffin, Georgia, alongside food scientist and PMIL collaborator Jinru Chen.

Research is nothing new to Lamptey, but his work normally focuses on ways to increase yields.

“In Ghana, I am involved in conducting a lot of trials, evaluations and cross hybridizations of all kinds of legumes, but mainly cowpeas and groundnuts (peanuts),” he said.

On the UGA Griffin Campus, he is studying the use of solar drying to control aflatoxin contamination in peanuts. He is comparing solar drying to normal drying.

Normal drying involves exposing the peanuts directly to sunlight on the ground or on concrete. Solar drying does not expose the peanuts directly to sunlight or rain. Instead, a dryer captures the heat from the sun and an enclosed structure around the nuts conducts the heat, Lamptey said.

Healthier eating, better tracking results in more produce-related foodborne illness cases

Posted on
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Mike Doyle doesn’t eat raw bean sprouts, medium-rare hamburgers or bagged salads. He isn’t on a special diet, but as director of the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Georgia, he studies the food pathogens that sicken thousands of Americans each year.

Doyle works closely with the food industry, consumer groups and government agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, on issues related to the microbiological safety of food. He also serves as a scientific adviser to groups like the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Academy of Sciences.

For a time, foodborne illness was most often connected with undercooked meats, and most product recalls and outbreaks were connected to meat products. Today, 33 percent of cases are tracked back to raw produce, Doyle said. In an odd Catch-22, he says America’s efforts to become healthier, including eating more produce, and efforts by the CDC and local health departments to do “a better job tracking sources” have led to the increase of reported foodborne illness cases linked to produce.