75 Years of IFT: Food Microbiology in JFS—1936 to Present


In anticipation of IFT's upcoming 75th anniversary, it was a welcome opportunity to peruse the historical archives and explore research published in the Journal of Food Science (JFS) throughout the last 7 decades on topics of interest to food microbiologists. The very first volume of JFS, published in 1936, explored issues such as the microbiological examination of dried foods, and numbers and types of microorganisms in frozen vegetables and fruits. These issues are as relevant today as they were then. I could not help but think, however, about how much the pathogens of concern have changed, largely as a result of production practices and handling, along with globalization. Where we once worried only about often mild to occasionally severe illness, we now unfortunately associate many pathogens with high mortality rates. In March of 1936, Hall published an article which explored new outbreaks of botulism in the western U.S., and the prevalence of type A botulism in the Rocky Mountain region largely as a result of inadequately sterilized home canned products. We should all take pride in the fact that extensive research over the years by the IFT community has led to the development of processes and technologies which have virtually eliminated threats due to botulism in commercially canned foods.

It was of great interest to read an article by Walton et al. published in 1936 which explored the bactericidal effects of vapors from crushed garlic. The authors explored the therapeutic uses of garlic with the goal of treatment of tuberculosis. The antimicrobial properties of phytochemicals and essential oils are of enormous interest today, and we receive hundreds of papers yearly related to these topics. By the 1940s, research topics published in JFS included the microbiology of spoilage in canned foods, with a focus on heat resistant spores. By 1950, interest in “cold sterilization” appeared in JFS, with publication of pioneering work conducted on super voltage cathode ray irradiation at the food technology labs at MIT. A paper from 1956 looked at the species of clostridia associated with spoilage of Spanish green olives. It was noted that the author was the recipient of the Samuel Cate Prescott Award for this work. It is heartening to know that we celebrate this award today, almost 60 years later, at the IFT Annual Meetings. By 1964, JFS had become comprehensive enough to warrant topical sections, and a microbiology section appeared for the first time in the Sept./Oct. issue. Topics in the first microbiology section included: Clostridium botulinum type E in smoked fish; the role of free and bound water in irradiation preservation; and sensitizing microorganisms to radiation by previous ultrasonic treatment.

I very much enjoyed reading Walter Urbain's 1970s editorial entitled “Where are we?” In this editorial, he appealed to his JFS colleagues that there “were more papers to publish than we can provide journal pages for them.” Does this sound familiar? Areas of research exploration at this time included infection routes of bacteria into chicken eggs. Just last year (2012), the Food Microbiology and Safety section of JFS published a paper which showed that E. coli O157:H7 facilitates penetration of Staphylococcus aureus into table eggs. What is the old adage, the more things change….? By the 1980s, publications appeared addressing topics such as the influence of pH on Clostridium botulinum control by sodium nitrite and sorbic acid in chicken emulsions, plating methods, and media for Clostridium perfringens and E. coli; attachment of Salmonella to poultry skin and sterilization of Indian spices by gamma irradiation. It was disappointing to find that research results related to presence of Listeria in foods were rarely the subject of JFS articles in the 1980's. I think we can all acknowledge that changes made to the journal by Daryl Lund and now Allen Foegeding have focused on making JFS one of the preeminent food science journals and we have no trouble attracting the top authors working on the most relevant issues to our food industry.

Here in 2013, the impact factor of JFS has never been higher. The tools we use to generate scientific results have greatly changed, and the tools of molecular biology are already transforming the way we understand the microbiological science of foods. Over the past few years, we have seen a movement away from culture based analysis of microbes to sequence-based analysis, and this trend will likely continue. Genome sequencing will greatly advance our knowledge of the microbial diversity of foods. As high throughput sequencing technologies reveal new information about food ecosystems, we should be prepared for the inevitable regulatory questions which these new findings will raise. As a food microbiologist, I can honestly say that there has never been a better time to be involved in science. I was cognizant, however, upon a recent visit to Louis Pasteur's home laboratory in Arbois, France, that he probably said these exact works during his time in science. He no doubt paved the brave way forward for all of us associated with JFS and our passion for food microbiology. We look forward to the next 75 years of scientific publication in the company of outstanding IFT professionals.