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Americas: IBM, Cornell University partner on safe milk supply

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IBM and Cornell University will use next-generation sequencing combined with bioinformatics designed to help reduce the chances that the global milk supply is impacted by safety breaches.

With the onset of this dairy project, Cornell University has become the newest academic institution to join the Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain, a food safety initiative that includes IBM Research, Mars, Incorporated and Bio-Rad Laboratories.

The US Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consume more than 600 pounds of milk and milk-based products per person per year.

Fresh food such as meat, dairy, and produce represent a great risk for food safety incidents.

Specifically, raw milk is the main ingredient used in pasteurized milk for drinking, infant formula, cheese, yogurt and other common grocery items.

Normally, raw milk samples are tested for a few specific groups of bacteria.

However, the Consortium is using the community of microbes or bacteria known as the microbiome to characterize the food samples at an unprecedented resolution.

By sequencing and analyzing the DNA and RNA (genetic code) of food microbiomes, researchers plan to create new tools that can help monitor raw milk to detect anomalies that represent food safety hazards and possible fraud.

Characterizing what is ‘normal’ for a food ingredient can better allow the observation of when something goes awry.

Detecting unknown anomalies is a challenge in food safety and serious repercussions may arise due to contaminants that may never have been seen in the food supply chain before.

The application of genomics will be designed to enable a deeper understanding and characterization of microorganisms on a much larger scale than has previously been possible.

Consortium researchers will conduct several studies comparing the baseline data of raw milk with known anomalies to help create proven models that can be used for additional studies.

They will continue to provide innovative solutions that can potentially minimize the chance that a food hazard will reach the final consumer and provide a tool to assist against food fraud.