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Published: 7 Mar 2023

Food microbiologist, Dr Laura Rood from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture has been announced as the recipient of the Australian Pork Limited Award at the national Science and Innovation Awards.

Dr Rood is one of just 12 scientists, researchers, and innovators across the country to receive an award.

The award will support Dr Rood in a one-year project looking at how pH affects bacteria growth on pork—something that could lead to a longer shelf life for vacuum-packed meat.

Dr Rood’s project follows industry observations that pork shoulder has a shorter shelf life than pork leg.

Pork shoulder also has a significantly higher pH than leg.

But it’s unclear whether pH is the main factor driving an increase in microbial growth.

Dr Rood has been working with Australian Pork Limited on research that was able to confirm the difference in shelf life.

“That got me thinking and led to this project, where [pH] will be the main focus,” Dr Rood said.

“I'll control the initial microbial loading… so I can tease apart whether it's the differences in pH that's driving that difference in shelf life."

Dr Rood said there’s a lot of biochemistry behind why different cuts of meat have a different pH, including the type of muscle fibres, glycogen and lactic acid in the muscle.

“We know that a higher pH actually facilitates the growth of bacteria,” she said.

“A lower pH is harder for bacteria to grow in.”

High pH also facilitates the growth of “aggressive spoilers”—bacteria that contribute more to quality loss.

Dr Rood hopes the research will support industry in market negotiations to modify existing use-by dates, which are not grounded in science and do not always translate to product quality.

“Actually quantifying it allows industry to potentially extend the shelf-life of certain products," Dr Rood said.

“The main goal is to be able to provide industry with information about their products.

“That way they can differentiate it based on these factors instead of just putting an arbitrary shelf life on something.

“This will hopefully pave the way for more fundamental scientific research that can then help inform processes to maximise the shelf-life of their different products to minimise wastage.”

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, with their award partners, present the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The Science and Innovation Awards are a competitive grants program that provides funding for innovative research projects to benefit Australia’s rural industries.

Laura is pictured with Agriculture Minister Murray Watt and CEO of Australian Pork Limited  Margo Andrae.

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