Food science professor will train students in research aimed at Salmonella

A Fresno State professor has joined a nation-wide team of educators and scientists dedicated to diminishing the tragic and deadly impacts of Salmonella infection in humans.

Dr. Erin Dormedy, associate professor in the Department of Food Science, will lead Fresno State’s partnership with Texas Tech’s International Center for Food Safety Excellence and Angelo State University in employing a $700,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant toward efforts to reduce deaths caused by this invasive bacteria.

Dormedy will work with researchers and educators from the different universities to create a virtual network of integrated student teams in order to build capacity for the detection and reduction of Salmonella in the food supply. 

“My goal as a researcher is to make the food supply chain as safe as possible by controlling food-borne pathogens and improving food contact safety,” Dormedy said. “There are 5,200 deaths per year due to foodborne illness in the United States, which theoretically are 100 percent preventable." 

salmonella

World-wide, Salmonella bacteria is the primary food-borne pathogen of concern, causing more illnesses and outbreaks along with deaths than any other bacterial food-borne pathogen, noted the grant researchers. The bacteria can be carried by beef cattle, pork, poultry and other animals. Despite regular practices by the livestock industry to control and eliminate the pathogen, sometimes the bacteria survives processing and cooking and can infect humans. In California, Salmonella has been a concern to almond and pistachio growers, leading to changes in regulations requiring pasteurization of these products.

At left, Associate Food Science Professor Erin Dormedy demonstrates testing methods for student in Fresno State's Microbiology/Chemistry Lab.

The three-year program will enable educators to recruit high-ability undergraduate students into a new Integrated Food Safety Scholars Program. Upgraded laboratory facilities and training will help the students enhance their research skills so they can transition effectively to graduate-level research and then into real-world situations, developing new ways to recognize and prevent the transfer of bacteria such as Salmonella.

Specialized equipment was purchased to upgrade Fresno State’s Food Science Microbiology/Chemistry Laboratory. It includes a Dupont BAX Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA probe that detects the presence Salmonella DNA in food samples. This is a rapid and high-throughput detection of the pathogen in a large number of food samples. The project also received a significant donation form the Pall Corp., including $150,000 worth of equipment and supplies and a GeneDisc PCR analyzer which allows for up to six pathogens to be tested at once. 

According to the Federal Food and Drug Administration, people infected with Salmonella typically develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after exposure. While most people recover within a week, in some cases the diarrhea is severe and the infection can spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other parts of the body.

Salmonella infections tend to be most severe among infants, older adults and the sick,” the FDA reports. “If not treated quickly, infection can lead to death.” Each year in the United States about 400 people die from acute salmonellosis, according to FDA statistics.

A key part of the grant program will allow students, with faculty guidance, to apply for up to $5,000 to support special study projects that will guide them into professional-level research. Funding will allow for supplies, travel to national and international conferences, and expenses related to submitting their results to a refereed journal. Dormedy expects anywhere from 5 to 10 Fresno State students to sign up for the program. One of the anticipated outcomes is an increase in graduate level enrollments in food science, resulting in a boost of human capital in the workforce with specialized training in food safety.

Dormedy is committed to teaching her students how to ensure a safer food supply, from the raw commodity to the supermarket.  Although undergraduate research is more time intensive, she believes students learn more effectively and become enthusiastic about the knowledge they acquire.

“Instead of being one person working to make the food supply safer, I can train future food scientists who will help to ensure the safety of the food supply in the United States,” Dormedy said.

Students interested in applying for this program may contact Dormedy through the Fresno State Food Science Department at 559-278-2164 or by email at edormedy@csufresno.edu.