This week we have Andrea Domen, a MS student in Food Science and Technology co-advised by Dr. Joy Waite-Cusic and Dr. Jovana Kovacevic, joining us to discuss her research investigating some mischievous pathogenic microbes. Much like an unwelcome dinner guest, food-bourne pathogens can stick around for far longer than you think. Andrea seeks to uncover the mechanisms that allow for Listeria monocytogenes, a ubiquitous pathogen found in dirt that loves cheese (who doesn’t?), to persist in dairy processing facilities.
Way back in the early 2000s, there were two listeriosis outbreaks that were linked to cheese. Because of these two outbreaks, the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control conducted a sampling program over the course of a decade. From this program, 88 isolates of L. monocytogenes from five different facilities were recovered. Within this set of isolates, 63 were from one facility which is now (perhaps unsurprisingly) shut down. Those 63 microbes were essentially clones of each other, which means this one lineage of microbes seemed to carry something that allowed them to survive for multiple years. So how did that lineage of Listeria survive? Turns out, like a 1990’s Reebok, they pump it. Listeria uses a protein in its cell membrane called an efflux pump to remove harmful chemicals like sanitizers, antibiotics, and heavy metals from the cell. Essentially, when the cell absorbs something that is too spicy – it’ll yeet it back out.
Don’t cry over contaminated milk
The idea that food borne pathogens are evolving to withstand processing environments is alarming, but fret not, the results of Andrea’s research are a first step to avoiding the creation of these super microbes in the first place. Instead, it can serve as a warning story for dairy production facilities about what can happen when L. monocytogenes contamination isn’t properly handled. In healthcare, it’s not uncommon to treat a microbial pathogen with multiple medications – as becoming resistant to several treatments is harder for the microbe than becoming resistant to just one. We are also able to apply this treatment method to sanitizing food production facilities by combining different sanitizers – but that is best left up to the chemists to avoid accidentally making an explosion or lethal gas.
To hear more about how Listeria can survive better than Destiny’s Child be sure to listen live on Sunday, May 7th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or download the podcast.
There are many adjectives used to describe the taste of different kinds of cheese: mild, tangy, buttery, nutty, sharp, smoky, I could continue but I won’t. Our preferences between these different characteristics will then drive what cheese we look for in stores and buy. But I would wager that most people (or dare I say anyone?) are rarely looking for a bitter cheese. I had never thought about how cheese could be bitter; probably because it’s something that I’ve never tasted before and that’s because the cheese production industry actively works to prevent cheese from being bitter. Intrigued? Good, because our guest this week researches why and how cheese can become bitter.
Paige Benson is a first year Master’s student advised by Dr. David Dallas in the Food Science Department. For her research, Paige is trying to understand how starter cultures affect the bitterness in aged gouda and cheddar cheeses. The cheese-making process begins with ripening milk, during which milk sugar is converted to lactic acid. To ensure that this process isn’t random, cheese makers use starter cultures of bacteria to control the ripening process. The bitterness problems don’t appear until the very end when a cheese is in its aging stage, which can take anywhere from 0-90 days. During this aging process, casein proteins (one of the main proteins in milk and therefore cheese) are being broken down into smaller peptides and it’s during this step that bitterness can arise. Even though this bitter cheese problem has been widely reported for decades (probably centuries), there are many different hypotheses about what causes the bitterness. Some say it might be the concentration of peptides, while others believe it’s a result of the starter culture used, and a third school of thought is that it’s the specific types of peptides. Paige is trying to bring some clarity to this problem by focusing on the bitterness that might be coming from the peptides.
To accomplish this work, Paige will be making lots of mini cheeses from different starter cultures, then aging them and extracting the peptides from the cheese to investigate the peptide profiles through genome sequencing. Scaling down the size of the cheeses will allow Paige to investigate starter cultures in isolation as well as in combination with different strains to see how this may affect peptide profiles, and therefore potentially bitterness.
Besides Paige’s research in cheese, we will also be discussing her background which also features lots of dairy! As a Minnesotan, Paige grew up surrounded by the best of the best dairy. In fact, her grandparents owned and ran a dairy farm, where Paige spent many of her summers and holidays. Her passion for food science was solidified when she started working as an organic farmer during her senior year of high school and she hasn’t ever looked back. Join us on Sunday, April 16th at 7 pm live on 88.7 FM or on the live stream. Missed the live show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!
You probably already know that skim milk and buttermilk are byproducts of cheese-making. But did you know that whey is another major byproduct of the cheese-making process? Maybe you did. Well, did you know that for each 1 kg of cheese obtained, there are about 9 kg of whey produced as a byproduct?! What in the world is done with all of that whey? And what even is whey? In this week’s episode, Food Science Master’s student Alyssa Thibodeau tells us all about it!
Whey is the liquid that remains after milk has been curdled and strained to produce cheese (both soft and hard cheeses) and yoghurt. Whey is mainly water but it also has lots of proteins and fats, as well as some vitamins, minerals, and a little bit of lactose. There are two types of whey: acid-whey (byproduct of yoghurt and soft cheese production) and sweet-whey (byproduct of hard cheese production). Most people are probably familiar with whey protein, which is isolated from whey. The whey protein isolates are only a small component of the liquid though and unfortunately the process of isolating the proteins is very energy inefficient. So, it is not the most efficient or effective way of using the huge quantities of whey produced. This is where Alyssa comes in. Alyssa’s research at OSU is focused on trying to develop a whey-beverage. Because of the small amounts of lactose that are in whey, yeast can be used to ferment the lactose, creating ethanol. This ethanol can then be converted by bacteria to acetic acid. Does this process sound a little familiar? It is! A similar process is involved when making kombucha and the end-product in Alyssa’s mind isn’t too far off of kombucha. She envisions creating an organic, acid-based or vinegar-type beverage from whey.
How does one get into creating the potentially next-level kombucha? Alyssa’s route to graduate school has been backwards, one that most students don’t get to experience. While the majority of students get a degree, get a job and then start a family, Alyssa started a family, got a job, and then went to graduate school. On top of being a single mother in graduate school, she is also a first-gen student and Hispanic. To quote Alyssa: “It makes me proud every day that I am able to go back to school as a single mom. In the past, this would have maybe been too hard to do or wouldn’t have been possible for older generations but our generations are progressing and people are making decisions for themselves.”.
Intrigued by Alyssa’s research and personal journey? You can hear all about it on Sunday, January 29th at 7 pm on https://kbvrfm.orangemedianetwork.com/. Missed the live show? You can listen to the recorded episode on your preferred podcast platform!
Did you know humans have the ability to “taste” through smelling? Well we do, and it is through a process called retronasal olfaction. This fancy sounding term is just some of the ways that food scientists, such as our guest speaker this week, recent M.S. graduate and soon to be Ph.D. student, Jenna Fryer studies how flavors, or tastes through smell, are understood and what impact external factors have on them. Specifically, Fryer looks at the ways fires affect the flavors of wine, a particularly timely area of research due to the recent wave of devastating wildfires in Oregon.
Having always been interested in food science, Fryer examines the ways smoke penetrates wine grapes. She does this by studying the ways people taste the smoke and how they can best rid the smokiness in their mouths, because spoiler, it has a pretty negative impact on the flavor. This research has forced her to develop novel ways to explain and standardize certain flavors, such as ashiness and mixed berry, as well as learn what compounds are the best palate cleansers. She will continue this research with her Ph.D. where she plans to figure out what compounds make that smoky flavor, and how best to predict which wines will taste like smoke in the future.
Through this work, Fryer has made some fascinating discoveries, such as how many people can actually detect the smoke flavor (because not everyone can), how best to create an ashy flavor (hint, it has to do with a restaurant in the UK and leeks), why red wine is more affected by smoke than white wines, and what the difference is between flavor and taste.
Tune in live at 7pm on Sunday April 24th or listen to this episode anywhere you get your podcasts to learn about Fryer’s research!
And, if you are interested in being a part of a future wine study (and who wouldn’t want to get paid to taste wine), click on this link to sign up!