Friendly bacteria may be introduced to bagged salad leaves to help ward off the possibility of salmonella and listeria outbreaks if a proposal by University of Queensland researchers and Horticulture Innovation Australia goes ahead.

More than 300 people in Victoria and South Australia suffered food poisoning in salmonella outbreaks linked with bagged salads and sprouts this year.

The The two-year, $800,000 project would use friendly lactic acid bacteria discovered at UQ and commercialised by Uniquest.

Associate professor Mark Turner of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences said a low level of pathogen contamination could be difficult to control, and methods to remove or kill pathogens such as washes and chlorine treatments are only partially effective.

“Our project aims to commercialise new strains of bacteria that already naturally occur on veggies," he said.

“These can assist salad producers improve the food safety and health benefits of their fresh and fresh-cut salad products, adding value to them and protecting the health of consumers.

“We expect this approach will provide an added safety hurdle which can be used across a wide range of fresh and processed veggies.”

Dr Turner said the project was working with friendly bacteria (named ProbiSafe) which strongly inhibit growth of salmonella and listeria, and provide a new, clean green alternative to prevent illness.

This work extends a previous UQ project funded by Horticulture Innovation Australia Limited where a large collection of lactic acid bacteria was screened for activity against salmonella and listeria.

“The bacteria we are working with have a long history of safe human consumption and are already used in many food fermentations, including dairy, beverages, meat and vegetables,” he said.

“Higher numbers of the good bacteria means significantly less growth of bad bacteria.

“They can be considered ‘probiotics’ for vegies.”