The Food Safety and Microbiology Laboratory works continually to improve the safety and quality of our nation's food supply through research that examines microbial ecology and routes of contamination, from farm to dinner table. Emphasis is placed on studying safety issues that affect locally produced fresh and specialty foods, with the particular aim of benefiting small-scale farmers and processors with limited resources. Projects include investigations into on-farm and post-harvest incidence, along with evaluations of methods to better prevent, verify, and respond to the presence of food-borne pathogens at all points in the chain of production, distribution, and consumption.
In a series of recent projects, researchers examined the differences in microbial loads between locally purchased food products and those that were purchased from online vendors, looking at such products as fish fillets, small ruminant meats, and shiitake mushrooms. ARS food safety scientists work closely with students, providing them with hands-on lab training related to current and developing issues in the agricultural and biological sciences. Students help conduct many research projects, such as investigating the prevalence of multi-drug resistance in bacteria that are found in food and environmental samples and then determining the genetic relatedness of these bacteria to one another.