The 10 tomatoes sitting in a Tupperware tub at the Food and Drug Administration seem to be doing nothing more than rotting, slowly. But an invisible battle is raging on the surface of the fruit, with provocative implications for food safety and the war that humans have been waging against bacteria for a century.
"This is the wrestling ring," said Eric Brown, a microbiologist at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, as he clicked open the lid to the tub. "This is the smack-down."
Brown and a team of FDA scientists trying to prevent salmonella contamination in tomatoes have stumbled upon what they believe are powerful, naturally occurring "good" bacteria that can slaughter the "bad" bacteria that have become a persistent problem in fresh fruits and vegetables because they harm humans.