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New Database Helps Monitor Food Pathogens

By Jim Core
February 9, 2004

The world's largest online database of information on how pathogenic bacteria respond to different environmental conditions in food has been established by scientists with the Agricultural Research Service and the United Kingdom's Institute of Food Research.

The database, called ComBase, is designed to help make risk assessments and model development easier. ComBase software facilitates research cooperation among scientists studying predictive microbiology. This growing field estimates the behavior of microorganisms in response to environmental conditions, including food production and processing operations from the farm to the table.

Using the database, scientists can enter data such as the temperature, acidity and available water, and then retrieve all records that match the search criteria. The database already contains about 25,000 growth and survival data records.

ComBase is a project of the Center of Excellence in Microbial Modeling and Informatics (CEMMI), a "virtual laboratory" available online. The ARS Eastern Regional Research Center (ERRC) in Wyndmoor, Pa., unveiled CEMMI in February 2002 to help generate partnerships that advance the use of predictive models of microorganisms in food.

CEMMI links its members' expertise to researchers in the food industry, government and academia. According to CEMMI Coordinator Mark L. Tamplin, ERRC hopes to enhance the way predictive models are developed and applied to various food processing situations, while ensuring that users interpret results properly. Predictive microbiology also benefits the risk assessment community by filling gaps in research data and enhancing uniformity in experimental designs.

ERRC's Pathogen Modeling Program software, a research and instructional tool for estimating the effects of multiple variables on the growth, inactivation or survival of food-borne pathogens, is available for download at the web sites for CEMMI and ERRC's Microbial Food Safety Research Unit.

Read more about this research in the February 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.