Food safety lab tests for bacteria

Posted at 5:33 PM, Jun 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-21 18:35:09-04

Every day, researchers at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development test hundreds of bacteria.

"We take it and put it into a liquid media that is specific for whatever bug we're looking for," said microbiologist, Dr. Karen McWilliams.

One of the most common bug they're testing for recently, is listeria.

"It causes a lot of problems because it can survive and actually grow in cold temperatures in your refrigerator even," said Justin Henderson with the Department of Agriculture Rural Development.

There have been more and more recalls related to listeria. Nearly 400 products were recalled last month alone.

And the department says we're seeing more recalls because the bacteria adapts to both cold and warm temperatures like soil.

"It's got all the right genetics to be able to survive and grow in the soil," Henderson said. "Then a whole different set of genetic factors that it allows to infect people."

He tells Fox 47 News that most people have likely been infected by listeriosis and not known it.

"there's probably a lot of cases of listeria that we never know about," said Henderson. "It can happen and people don't get sick enough to go to the hospital and get tested."

Symptoms for listeria range from feeling like a flu and then could sometimes be fatal.

People with impaired immune systems like kids, the elderly and pregnant woman are more at-risk.

"It's a tricky one and the fact that it has the potential to cause very serious illness too, sort of makes the whole thing a little more important," Henderson said.

It's common in meat and dairy products but since the department has started doing more testings they've seen it more often in other products.

"We've seen it in sprouts and leafy greens and frozen foods. It's the kind of thing where now we're not really sure where we might find it so we just keep looking," said Henderson.

While they keep looking for the disease they say the public should still keep food safety in mind.

Wash your hands before handling and food. Then make sure you properly cook it doing that can kill the bacteria fast.