The Food Microbiology and Hygiene research section focuses on the prevalence and behavior of pathogenic bacteria which can be uptaken by consuming contaminated fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, the physiology and molecular biology of bacteria isolated from these plant foods is investigated to assess their occurrence, mode of transmission and the risks they pose to consumers thus to develop prevention strategies.
Both phenotypic and molecular methods are used to characterise and identify pathogenic and toxigenic, as well as spoilage bacteria. To investigate these foods as whole microbial ecosystems the characterisation of the complete microbiota is done. Additionally safety-related research concentrates on the detection and characterisation of antibiotic resistances to gain insight into resistance mechanisms and transfer routes of resistance genes. Bacterial strains which are tested include: beneficial (e.g. starter cultures), spoilage (e.g. enterobacteria) and pathogenic bacteria (e.g. Listeria monocytogenes).
One focus of the present research is the development and testing of new lactic acid bacteria as starter cultures for the fermentation of fruits and vegetables with special interest in African plant products. The aim is to identify lactic acid bacteria that are not only suitable as starter cultures, but also show probiotic activities. Such multifunctional starters may thus not only improve the quality, shelf life and the safety of these foods, but also contribute to consumer health.
Genetic and taxonomical techniques are used to accurately identify bacteria and to describe novel species. Furthermore, bacterial functional and virulence properties are investigated at molecular level.