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Scientists wonder where E. coli lurks

test tube October 17, 1995
Web posted at: 12 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Dick Wilson

AUBURN, Alabama (CNN) -- Heaping a plate high with food sometimes can mean more than an enjoyable meal. Bacteria found in some foods, especially meat products, can bring illness or even death.

In 1993, a deadly outbreak in the western United States involving bacteria known as E. coli (Escherichia coli) worried the nation. Although attention to food-borne illnesses has dipped in the months since then, experts warn there is still reason for concern.

raw chicken At Auburn University in Alabama, new research is under way aimed at finding out more about E. coli bacteria.

James Barbaree said the major challenge is determining where E. coli comes from. "Is it just in cattle or is it in other animals? Does it live in plants? The basic starting point is to get a technique nailed down that will be specific and sensitive to find it in the environment," Barbaree said.

Barbaree and other researchers at Auburn's new Food Technology Institute are using a technique familiar to anyone who follows criminal trials: DNA testing by the PCR method. (220K AIFF sound or 220K WAV sound)

temp guage The DNA testing is part of a food-safety initiative at Auburn that also includes strong emphasis on teaching proper food- handling techniques. (180K AIFF sound or 180K WAV sound)

Some of it may sound like common sense, but the advice from food-handling experts could help save a life.

researcher Auburn's Robin Fellers emphasized the basics: "Number one, wash your hands. Make sure your hands are clean at all times. Number two, keep cold food cold and hot food hot, keeping it out of the danger zone as much as possible. Number three, make sure your food comes from a safe source."

The Auburn researchers say their overall goal in the food safety project is to educate consumers to keep food safe from the farm to the plate. (857K QuickTime movie)

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