FACULTY OF NATURAL SCIENCES
School of Environmental Sciences and Development:
Microbiology at work: The Food Industry
Despite bacteria and fungi, or the laymen term “germs”, being proclaimed as being bad for you by the general media, the truth is there is a side to micro-organisms where the benefits far outshine the negative. Too good to be true, well judge for yourself. Lets start with a typical day.
For breakfast you may have a cereal and milk, perhaps also some yoghurt. Health conscious, how about some vitamins to start the day During the day you might enjoy a salad, with perhaps olives and cheese, maybe a light vinaigrette Perhaps for dinner with friends you consider pizza with salami, pepperoni or olives How about Oriental food A glass of wine or a beer with that And by the way how many glasses of water did you have today.
Still not seeing the link Then let’s break it down.
Let’s start with food.
Microbial fermentations have been used since ancient times to produce foods such as cheese and yoghurt, as well as alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer. Foodstuffs like olives, some processed meats and additives (such as vinegar and soy sauce) are also the results of microbial fermentations. Some food flavourants and colourants are produced by micro-organisms. Some of the vitamins included in various products are a product of high yield strains.
In short microbiologist play an important role in the production process, diligently maintaining the production cultures and looking for improved strains.
General domestic and industrial use require significant quantities of water. The cycle starts at water purification plants were microbiological and chemical tests are carried out to ensure its quality before distribution. After the water have been used bacteria and protozoa at the sewage treatment plants degrade waste materials in the effluent water so that the water can be returned back to rivers without harm to the environment. Microbiologists at these plants and government institutions monitor and control these processes.
Safety and hygiene
Long term storage of foods, presents a particular challenge when trying to prevent spoilage by microbes. Besides spoilage rendering the food unattractive, it can also carry health risks such as food poisoning. The increased popularity of ready made meals carries the risk of increased outbreaks of Listeria and Campylobacter food poisoning.
Microbiologists are essential to ensure the safety and nutrition of these products; and play an important role in product development, food hygiene and preservation.