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Spring 2012
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CALS Notes

Cornell Research Delivers for Dairy Industry

By Stacey Shackford

Our days of crying over spoiled milk could be over, thanks to Cornell food scientists.

Researchers in the Milk Quality Improvement Program have identified some of the bacterial culprits that can cause spoilage in food and made some discoveries about the optimal temperature for pasteurization (lower is better). Both findings could help improve the quality of dairy products and extend their shelf life.

Despite the best practices in cleaning, processing, and packaging, “spore former” bacteria such as Paenibacillus, which are ubiquitous in nature, can sneak their way into a variety of foods, causing off-flavors and curdling. Resistant to heat, the spores can survive pasteurization—that small jolt of heat may actually stimulate spores to germinate—and some can reproduce even when product is refrigerated.

Little was known about Paenibacillus, so the lab of food science professor Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D. ’97, and Dean Kathryn Boor took on the task of analyzing the genus and its subtypes, and identified a potential screening tool.

The findings are already being applied in the field. Enlisted by Upstate Niagara, a cooperative of more than 360 dairy farm families, to further improve the quality of their award-winning milk, the Wiedmann-Boor Lab assessed milk samples provided by the cooperative. The data are now being analyzed by DNA fingerprinting techniques to identify exactly which types of organisms are present and where they might have come from.

“Upstate Niagara’s dairies are already doing a great job producing high quality milk. They wanted to make their best even better, and now they are leading the way in seeking out innovative solutions to a common industry problem, based on the latest scientific discoveries,” Wiedmann said.

Dean Boor and several food science faculty also recently visited PepsiCo’s global research and development headquarters to deliver seminars on the latest academic research in food safety.

And attendees at a recent meeting of the New York State Cheese Manufacturers’ Association heard from extension specialist Rob Ralyea, MS ’98, about additions to Cornell’s dairy extension program being developed in response to a growing interest for continuing education and certification in cheesemaking and fermented dairy products such as yogurt.