Students improving life: Using technology to increase food safety | Ontario Agricultural College

Students improving life: Using technology to increase food safety

Posted on Thursday, March 17th, 2022

Written by Tahlia Dyer

Head shot of Brenda Zai.

Food safety and mitigating foodborne illness is top priority for Brenda Zai, M.Sc. food science student. Her sense of curiosity, desire for critical thinking and inclination to be in a lab and research-based environment led her to pursue graduate studies at the University of Guelph (U of G).

“During my food science undergrad at U of G, I thoroughly enjoyed food microbiology, which is what I'm specializing in right now and it's really exciting,” says Brenda.

As an undergraduate student, she recalls the ample opportunities available for food science students, which offered her unique learning and hands-on experience in the laboratory and food sector.

“Food science is a very important field within our industry and in our everyday lives. There was definitely no shortage of finding jobs within the field. There are lots of opportunities for students to get involved and jumpstart their career.” 

Under the supervision of Dr. Keith Warriner, Brenda and other students in her lab are exploring the use of gas plasma, light emitting diode (LED) lighting, and advanced oxidation process. These novel technologies are used to inactivate two types of pathogens associated with poultry, which remain significant causes of foodborne illness. 

“The project will develop and compare the efficacy of the three novel technologies to inactivate Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria while retaining hatchability of eggs or retaining the quality characteristics of the raw meat and eggs,” says Brenda.

Brenda is investigating the advanced oxidation process and technology using shelled chicken eggs. Other students are looking at the LED lighting and the gas plasma technologies, in collaboration with one of the food engineering labs.

“For the advanced oxidation process we are using a large reactor unit, similar to an enclosed conveyor belt,” says Brenda. “Three materials were selected to interact with each other including hydrogen peroxide, ultraviolet (UV) light, and ozone. Together these materials produce hydroxyl radicals, which act as the sanitation.”

One of Brenda’s greatest learning experiences so far, is that things won’t always go as planned. The research project is still intact, but the team has had to adapt their approaches along the way.

“At the end of the day we are working with bacteria, they are living or microorganisms, and sometimes they don't work the way we want them to. Same with technology. Because it is a new application of this technology it doesn’t always go as planned.”

Luckily, the reactor unit and technology are versatile and utilized in many different projects across the Department of Food Science. 

“Other technicians and students within our lab have looked at sanitization of wastewater, for example, or other food commodities such as lemons and other produce,” shares Brenda. “The lab has looked at sanitization of N95 and surgical masks to prolong their life in order to reduce waste, which is all very exciting research.”

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