Washington, Sept 28 : In a first of its kind survey on free-living protozoa in meat-cutting plants, scientists have shown high diversity rates of various species including those that could harbour food-borne pathogens.
Protozoa are unicellular microorganisms that feed on bacteria. Sometimes the bacteria survive and replicate within the protozoa. While bacterial presence in meat-processing environments has been previously examined, scientists have not conducted a single study of protozoan communities in these environments and their role in food contamination.
For the study, researchers used a series of methods to screen for protozoa in five meat-cutting plants and found communities of amoebae, ciliates, and flagellates to be present in all.
They detected Protozoa in floor drains, standing water on the floor, soiled bars of cutting tables, plastic pallets and out-of-use hot water knife sanitizers. Also, protozoa were identified on surfaces, which come into direct contact with meat, such as conveyor belts, surfaces of cutting tables, and needles of meat tenderizers.
Later, the cultures were refrigerated for a week, after which protozoa were still detected in half of the samples. Through microscopic observations researchers identified up to 61 morphospecies.
"This survey showed that there is high protozoan species richness in meat-cutting plants and that the species included species related to known hosts of food-borne pathogens," The Wired News quoted the researchers, as saying.
The findings of the study were reported in the latest issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.