Hidden Dangers in Infant Food

When you browse the snack food aisle at your local grocery store or grab a quick bite at a fast-food drive-through, food safety can be easy to take for granted. While many countries have regulatory bodies and food safety practices that make food contamination a rare occurrence, this is not true everywhere. In addition, while food poisoning can be extremely unpleasant, it is typically not life threatening for individuals living in countries with adequate medical care and access to antibiotics. However, these experiences are not universal and many developing countries suffer serious adverse effects from a lack of food safety practices throughout the food processing chain.

Examining Pathogenic Contaminants

Given these issues, Tsai et al.1 set out to examine the diversity of pathogens in infant foods in a low-income area of Kenya in an effort to elucidate if the frequent diarrheal diseases affecting infants in that region were due to pathogenic contaminants. The team collected infant food samples directly from mothers and stored the samples in DNA/RNA Shield to ensure DNA and RNA stabilization during transportation and storage. Once the samples arrived to the laboratory, total DNA and RNA was isolated using the ZymoBIOMICS DNA/RNA Miniprep Kit. After ensuring the DNA and RNA extracts were inhibitor free, the samples were analyzed for the presence of over 35 gene targets indicating the presence of pathogens of interest using the TaqMan® Array Card analysis. For example, the presence of stx1 and stx2 (Shiga toxin production genes) indicated the presence of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli.

The researchers found that 62% of collected food samples were contaminated and that the type and frequency of the contaminants varied by month. Of the foods examined, cow’s milk was deemed to be the most concerning, as it was shown to have a higher likelihood of contamination by enteric pathogens when compared to other common infant foods. These results suggest that exposure to pathogens is constant and high in low-income countries and support the implementation of household water, sanitation, and hygiene interventions in these communities.

Crucial Insight

This research shows how advances in molecular genomics have allowed crucial insight into food contamination and the infections associated with it. Using technology developed by Zymo Research, scientists are able to identify which pathogens are most prevalent in contaminated food and can begin to elucidate how these contaminants are introduced and spread. To learn more about this research and to see how Zymo Research’s products are used in the field, read the paper here.

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1. Tsai, K., Simiyu, S., Mumma, J., Aseyo, R. E., Cumming, O., Dreibelbis, R., et al. (2019). Enteric Pathogen Diversity in Infant Foods in Low-Income Neighborhoods of Kisumu, Kenya. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.