There is a food poisoning myth out there that you can always tell when something is not safe to eat because it smells off. Not all food pathogens create odours. So we cannot always tell that a food is not safe to eat by it’s smell.
However there some bacteria which do create odours and uneder the right conditions, that smell can be used to determine the level of safety of the food.
In Tasmania right now, a group of 30 volunteers are putting their noses to the test to help a researcher from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) test a new shelf life prediction tool.
The smelling is done as part of a sensory panel every few weeks on lamb meat samples which are past their expected shelf life.
TIA researcher Laura Rood said; “For my experiments, I am exposing meat samples to different bacteria and storing them past the end of the expected shelf life. My research aims to extend the shelf life of sheep meat, which is really important given the time needed for export shipment. I’m working to help ensure Australia’s red meat continues to be a premium quality product in the international market.”
The research is part of the Principal Research Organisation for Microbial Ecology and Physiology (PROMEP), and is being done in collaboration with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).
Ms Rood said; “I’ve found that sheep meat goes off because of the make-up of the microbial community, as opposed to individual bacteria. Now I’m investigating if there are certain groups of bacteria that work together to cause the spoilage. Sheep meat generally has a shelf life of 12 weeks when it is stored constantly at minus one degrees and is vacuum-packaged. Beef, under the same conditions, lasts for about 24 weeks.”
The difference is most likely becauise of the higher pH in lamb, which can favour the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage.
Further information about the Shelf Life Prediction Service for vacuum-packed meat, and research updates, are available online at http://blogs.utas.edu.au/promep/