What Is Food Microbiology

3 March 2017

What is Food Microbiology Food microbiology is the study of food micro-organisms; how we can identify and culture them, how they live, how some infect and cause disease and how we can make use of their activities. Microbes are single-cell organisms so tiny that millions can fit into the eye of a needle. They are the oldest form of life on earth. Microbe fossils date back more than 3. 5 billion years to a time when the Earth was covered with oceans that regularly reached the boiling point, hundreds of millions of years before dinosaurs roamed the earth.

The field of food microbiology is a very broad one, encompassing the study of microorganisms which have both beneficial and deleterious effects on the quality and safety of raw and processed foods. Food science is a discipline concerned with all aspects of food – beginning after harvesting, and ending with consumption by the consumer. It is considered one of the agricultural sciences, and it is a field which is entirely distinct from the field of nutrition. In the U. S. , food science is typically studied at land-grant universities.

Examples of the activities of food scientists include the development of new food products, design of processes to produce these foods, choice of packaging materials, shelf-life studies, sensory evaluation of the product with potential consumers, microbiological and chemical testing. Food scientists in universities may study more fundamental phenomena that are directly linked to the production of a particular food product. Food scientists are generally not directly involved with the creation of genetically modified (bio-engineered) foods.

Some of the subdisciplines of food science: Food safety, Food engineering, Product development, Sensory analysis, Food chemistry. The primary tool of microbiologists is the ability to identify and quantitate food-borne microorganisms; however, the inherent inaccuracies in enumeration processess, and the natural variation found in all bacterial populations complicate the microbiologists job. Without microbes, we couldn’t eat or breathe. Without us, they’d probably be just fine.

Understanding microbes is vital to understanding the past and the future of ourselves and our planet. Archaea look and act a lot like bacteria. So much so that until the late 1970s, scientists assumed they were a kind of “weird” bacteria. Then microbiologist Carl Woese devised an ingenious method of comparing genetic information showing that they could not rightly be called bacteria at all. Their genetic recipe is too different. So different Woese decided they deserved their own special branch on the great family tree of life, a branch he dubbed the Archaea.

Archaea comes from the Greek word meaning “ancient. ” An appropriate name, because many archaea thrive in conditions mimicking those found more than 3. 5 billion years ago. Back then, the earth was still covered by oceans that regularly reached the boiling point — an extreme condition not unlike the hydrothermal vents and sulfuric waters where archaea are found today. Some scientists consider archaea living fossils that may provide hints about what the earliest life forms on Earth were like, and how life evolved on our planet.

In addition to superheated waters, archaea have been found in acid-laden streams around old mines, in frigid Antarctic ice and in the super-salty waters of the Dead Sea. A number of other extreme-living bacterial species also enjoy these conditions, too, such as the community of cyanobacteria and bacteria shown top right. Foodborne illness or food poisoning is caused by consuming food contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, toxins, viruses, prions or parasites. Such contamination usually arises from improper handling, preparation or storage of food.

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