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Published: 18 Jun 2020

Dipon Sarkar

In a world-first, a PhD student at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) is developing predictive tools to inform food safety management decisions for the soft cheese, paneer.

Paneer is a fresh, unaged, soft cheese that is particularly popular in South Asia, but is made and sold around the world.

In Australia, there are currently eight major brands producing paneer, across NSW, Victoria and northern Tasmania.

Not a lot is known about how pathogens behave in paneer and this information is important for refining food safety regulations.

Dipon Sarkar wants to know exactly how storage conditions can affect the growth of harmful pathogens in paneer.

To do this he has been spiking batches of paneer with pathogens in the lab to track how the cheese reacts.

“I am essentially faking a food safety incident, within the confines of the lab,” Dipon said.

“I am infecting the cheese with the most commonly associated pathogens to dairy products, including Listeria monocytogenes, E.coli, Bacillus cereus and Salmonella spp to study how they grow over time in different temperatures.

“Counting the pathogens is the first step in mapping the response for the different conditions.

“We can then use this information to make tools that can help predict the risk under certain conditions.

“These predictive tools ultimately help in making food safety management decisions, like the fact that chicken is safe for two hours out of the fridge.

“Hopefully by the end of my research we will know exactly how long paneer is safe for too.”

Dipon is working in collaboration with partners in India that will ensure his findings can be used to inform regulations, both here and internationally.

“This is really important because I know that all the time and effort I am putting into my research won’t just stay in the lab, it will have real world impact,” Dipon said.

Dipon moved from India to Tasmania to complete his PhD and said he jumped at the chance to work with the internationally renowned food safety and microbiology team at TIA.

“TIA and the University of Tasmania has been at the forefront of this research in predictive microbiology since the 1980s so when I was offered a scholarship, I was very excited, Dipon said.

TIA is a joint venture between the University of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Government.