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Computer model reveals where food pathogens grow

An outbreak of food-related illness, such as E. coli-tainted spinach, often leaves food safety experts scratching their heads over the source of the contamination.

Thanks to a new computer model developed by researchers at the University of Florida, Wageningen University and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, food safety experts may have a better chance of predicting where contamination risks lie and what can be done to minimize those risks.

The program, dubbed COLIWAVE, can predict the growth and death of pathogenic bacteria in substances like compost, soil and water. The program uses variables such as oxygen availability, temperature and substance characteristics to predict how much bacteria is present at different periods of time.

As they describe in a paper in the online version of the journal Ecological Modelling, the researchers have already used the model to predict the growth of harmful E. coli in composted manure used as fertilizer on organic farms. Organic farming typically relies on compost or manure rather than chemical fertilizers.

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