Research News

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Center for Food Safety
  • Research
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Researchers at the University of Georgia found that pathogens, like salmonella, can survive for at least six months in cookies and crackers. The recent study was prompted by an increased number of outbreaks of foodborne diseases linked to low-water-activity, or dry, foods. Larry Beuchat (pictured left), a Distinguished Professor Emeritus and researcher in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, led a study to see just how long bacteria that cause foodborne illness can survive in certain foods.

“There have been an increased number of outbreaks of diseases associated with consumption of contaminated dry foods. We wouldn’t expect salmonella to grow in foods that have a very dry environment,” said Beuchat, who works with the Center for Food Safety on the UGA campus in Griffin.

Beuchat and study co-author David Mann, a research professional in the center, found that not only can harmful bacteria survive in dry foods, like cookie and cracker sandwiches, but they can also live for long periods of time.

For the recent study, published in the Journal of Food Protection, researchers used five different serotypes of salmonella that had been isolated from foods involved in previous foodborne outbreaks. “Isolates were from foods with very low moisture content,” Beuchat said.

  • Research
  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Plant Breeding
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As a young man working on his family’s farm in Perry, Georgia, Jerry Johnson loved the sight of wheat growing in the fields. Decades later, Johnson, now a respected plant breeder and crop and soil sciences professor, received the 2015 Inventor’s Award from the University of Georgia Research Foundation (UGARF) for his work breeding wheat varieties for farmers in Georgia and across the Southeast. “I grew a lot of wheat and soybeans with my father and my uncle. I always thought the wheat was pretty growing in the fields during the wintertime, when everything else is brown and there are no leaves on the trees,” he said.

Johnson attended Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College and UGA, completing his undergraduate degree in agronomy. While at UGA, he worked with Morris Bitzer in Bitzer’s wheat breeding program before accepting an assistantship at Purdue University. There, he earned master’s and doctoral degrees in plant breeding and genetics. He served as an assistant professor at the University of Maryland before returning home to Georgia in 1977 to teach and conduct research at UGA’s campus in Griffin, Georgia.

Thirty-eight years later, Johnson has produced close to 50 wheat varieties. Throughout his career, he made at least 1,000 wheat crosses annually, which led to an average of two new wheat varieties each year. “I’ve been fortunate that, in some years, we released three or four (new varieties) and, in some years, none,” he said.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Food Science and Technology
  • Center for Food Safety
  • Research
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In a recent study funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, University of Georgia researchers found that produce containing bacteria are likely to contaminate other produce items through the continued use of knives or graters — the bacteria latches onto the utensils commonly found in consumers’ homes and spreads to the next item. Unfortunately, many consumers are unaware that utensils and other surfaces at home can contribute to the spread of bacteria, said the study’s lead author Marilyn Erickson, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ department of food science and technology.

“Just knowing that utensils may lead to cross-contamination is important,” Erickson said. “With that knowledge, consumers are then more likely to make sure they wash them in between uses.”

Erickson has been researching produce for the past 10 years. Her past work has mainly focused on the fate of bacteria on produce when it’s introduced to plants in the field during farming.

In 2013, she was co-author on a study looking at the transfer of norovirus and hepatitis A between produce and common kitchen utensils — finding that cutting and grating increased the number of contaminated produce items when that utensil had first been used to process a contaminated item.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Food Science and Technology
  • Research
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A University of Georgia food scientist is turning to a logical source for input on which foods consumers like and which they don’t like. His research involves recruiting people from all walks of life to come into his laboratory in Griffin, Georgia, and taste food. Since joining the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences a year ago, sensory scientist Koushik Adhikari has led consumer panels on roasted peanuts, Vidalia onions, steak and dog food. (No, the recruits didn’t actually taste the dog food. Based on the dog food’s appearance, they rated the likelihood they would buy it for their pets.)

“Generally, people are fearful of what they didn’t grow up eating,” said Adhikari. “They may dislike a food for a specific reason. I don’t like ice cream because I worked for an ice cream company for several years.”

The field of sensory science is all about data, he said. After asking 100 consumers to taste six samples, Adhikari and his team generate a lot of data that, after analyzed, gives food companies a plethora of information on how consumers will accept, or reject, their product.

“Most of the companies we work with just want the data because they have their own statisticians,” he said. “Then other companies want us to analyze the data for them. It can go both ways.”

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Research
  • Peanut Mycotoxin and Innovation Lab
  • Griffin Campus
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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.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Turfgrass and Weed Science
  • Crop and Soil Sciences
  • Research
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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.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Turfgrass and Weed Science
  • Research
  • Crop and Soil Sciences
  • Griffin Campus
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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.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Weed Science
  • Research
  • Turfgrass and Weed Science
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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.

  • College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
  • Cooperative Extension
  • Research
  • Backyard Farming
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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?

  • Research
  • Center for Food Safety
  • FoodPIC
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Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson and Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black came to Griffin on June 19 for a tour of the campus. The tour included updates on existing projects between Georgia Tech researchers and UGA Center for Food Safety scientists and research on parasites, pathogens on cantaloupes and an antimicrobial food rinse developed by CFS Director Michael Doyle and research scientist Tong Zhao. The guests also sampled Georgia blueberries in the sensory lab and heard updates on blueberry and poultry projects conducted in the Food Innovation and Commercialization Center. University System of Georgia Regent and local orthopedic surgeon Dr. Tommy Hopkins organized and attended the tour. State Representative David Knight was also on hand participating in campus tour.