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Purdue researchers track deadly foodborne bacterium

Researchers at Purdue University are developing new electronic sensors that should be able to detect the deadly pathogen Listeria monocytogenes in food processing lines.

In May, President Bill Clinton announced that the federal government would require food processors to cut the rate of Listeria illnesses in half by 2005, instead of 2010 as was previously planned. Later this summer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to propose that processors be required to test for Listeria monocytogenes in their plants and on equipment. There would be no requirement for the processors to test for the bacterium in food.

Listeria monocytogenes is the most deadly food pathogen of them all. It sickens more than 2,500 people each year in the United States, and one out of five of its victims dies.

Arun Bhunia, associate professor of food science at Purdue, says Listeria monocytogenes is a difficult pathogen to control. "It is very heat resistant, it grows even when refrigerated, and it survives freezing," he says.

Listeria monocytogenes is a common bacterium found in many foods, including meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables. According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1999, it was found in 12 percent of the ground beef, 25 percent of the ground chicken, and 30 percent of the ground turkey sold. Six percent of ready-to-eat luncheon meats were found to contain the pathogen.

Bhunia says healthy individuals usually do not suffer from the disease caused by the bacterium. "Not everyone is sensitive to Listeria monocytogenes," Bhunia says. "Individuals who are immunocompromised, very young, old, who are cancer or AIDS patients, or who have had an organ transplant are sensitive to this organism."

A 1998 outbreak of Listeria killed 15 people and sickened another 100 people. Approximately 15 million pounds of hot dogs and luncheon meats were destroyed because of the outbreak.

Listeria monocytogenes can cause diarrhea, hea
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Contact: Steve Tally
tally@aes.purdue.edu
765-494-9809
Purdue University
27-Jul-2000


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