Microorganisms and food

To the general public, the association of microorganisms and food conjures up negative images of rotten fruit or food poisoning. On reflection, many people may remember that yeast is involved in bread and beer production, but how many realise that microorganisms play a part in the manufacture of soy sauce, pepperoni and even chocolate? In the following pages, we shall look at the contribution of microorganisms to the contents of our shopping baskets before considering one of the negative associations referred to above, the microbial spoilage of food.

The production of foodstuffs as a result of microbial fermentation reactions predates recorded history. The accidental discovery that such foods were less susceptible to spoilage than fresh foods must have made them an attractive proposition to people in those far-off days. Of course, until relatively recent times, nothing was known of the part played by microorganisms, so the production of beer, cheese and vinegar would not have been the carefully controlled processes that are used today. Indeed, it was only with the development of isolation techniques towards the end of the nineteenth century (recall Chapter 1), that it became possible to use pure cultures in food production for the first time. The fermentation of foodstuffs, hitherto an art, became a science.

INDUSTRIAL AND FOOD MICROBIOLOGY Table 17.1 Some applications of microorganisms

Food products Alcoholic drinks Dairy products Bread Vinegar Pickled foods Mushrooms Single-cell protein Products from microorganisms Enzymes Amino acids Antibiotics Citric acid Mining industries Metal extraction Desulphurisation of coal Agriculture

Microbial pesticides Environment Bioremediation Wastewater treatment Nitrogen fixation Composting

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