Consumer Protection | Tomorrow Today - The Science Magazine | DW | 30.04.2004
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Tomorrow Today

Consumer Protection

Food safety issues hit European consumers where it hurts most – at the table. That is why research into the field is so important. A young Danish scientist has taken up the fight against bacteria in food.


Looking to eliminate dangerous food germs: Henrik Siegumfeldt

A typical butcher in Copenhagen sells ham to a customer. Yet the man making a quick purchase before going into work is no ordinary consumer. Henrik Siegumfeldt is a food scientist. Meat is one of his specialities.

He works in the Food Science Centre at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg. He is trying to find out how bacteria can be used to prevent diseases from being transmitted through food. The 33-year-old scientist says it is impossible to make completely sterile food.

Instead, Siegumfeldt’s approach is to crowd out dangerous germs by adding more bacteria to the meat. Of course, the only kind of bacteria he uses are those not harmful to humans, like the bacteria found in yoghurt, for example.

Siegumfeldt explains, "By adding thousands of good bacteria, it means that even if one of the bad guys slips into the package, he will not have a chance. Simply because there are millions of others to run. So it will mean that even if the meat is lying in the shop for a week, there is not enough food and room for the pathogenic bacteria to develop. So that way it is safe to eat for a longer period, without doing anything with chemicals."

Until now, chemical additives have primarily been used to keep food fresh longer. Take what are known and loved in Denmark as red sausages. At lunch time, now and then the food scientist goes to a snack bar. But he would prefer it if chemical additives were less common in the food served there. He is working on making that possible.

It is no coincidence that new methods for preserving food are being developed in Denmark. "Food is one of our largest export commodities," says Siegumfeldt. If thousands of people become ill because a Danish product is contaminated with dangerous bacteria, that damages the reputation and business of the food industry as a whole. That is why the work is so important.

But Siegumfeldt’s search is reaping added benefits closer to home. An avid amateur cook, the young Dane spends plenty of time in front of a stove. He even cooks for his colleagues in the institute’s laboratory kitchen. His passion for fine foods is what led Siegumfeldt to his speciality. His vision for the future is keeping food fresh - without chemical additives.