We all know the importance of a well-balanced diet to maintain health. But, there’s another thing we need to consider with our food — is it safe to eat? We know that microbes like E. coli and Salmonella need a warm location with lots of nutrients to grow…. just like the potato salad at your Labor Day BBQ or the snacks for your picnic! Many times, the dishes we prepare will sit out for hours, providing the right conditions for harmful bacteria to grow. If we ingest these microbes, they then get to grow in our digestive system where they can cause food poisoning. The CDC estimates that 48 million people will get sick each year from food poisoning. To prevent this, we need to be careful when storing and handing our food before preparing it, serving food at the correct temperature, and storing it after meals.
To further educate people on the importance of food safety, the CDC has designated September as “Food Safety Month” and promotes education on how to protect ourselves and our loved ones from food poisoning. Their website has many resources to help educate your students. But, why not bring in a laboratory component? Here are some experiments that would be great to explore food safety.
- MyLab™ Custom Kit – How Do We Keep Our Food Safe?: In this experiment, milk will be used as a growth medium for bacteria. A blue dye will be added that turns colorless when bacteria grow in it. The impact of cooking, chilling, and cross-contamination will be tested to determine bacterial growth.
- How Clean is the Water We Drink and the Air We Breathe?: Your class will make the invisible visible! With this kit, your students can sample foods and beverages and then grow any microbes present overnight. A safe and simple way to teach about microbes.
- Multiplex PCR Testing of Water Contaminants: Contaminated water can affect human health in many ways. When it comes to food safety, microbes can be introduced to veggies when it is sprayed on crops while they grow. This test uses PCR to test for the presence of three separate, classroom-safe organisms in a water sample using a single PCR reaction.
- Detection of a Simulated Infectious Agent: To avoid food poisoning, we can practice safe food preparation techniques to prevent harmful microbes from getting transferred between food items. This includes keeping your working surfaces and your hands clean, cooking food to the correct temperature, and storing foods (both cooked and raw) at the proper temperature. Students can practice clean techniques in the kitchen using a simulated infectious agent that is invisible to the naked eye. Contaminate a cutting board or knife, then see how the germs spread without keeping clean!