Abstract: Low water activity foods are foods which are naturally low in moisture or where moisture has been purposefully reduced to a water activity less than 0.85. This broad category of foods has often been considered ‘safe’ as they cannot support the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. However, numerous outbreaks in the past decade have shown that while pathogens are not able to grow, they can survive and may lead to foodborne illnesses. Moreover, studies have shown that these low water activity environments increase thermal resistance, rendering traditional thermal processing technologies less efficacious. Understanding the limitations of traditional thermal processing as well as exploring opportunities to enhance the safety of this category of foods is imperative for providing food producers science-based preventive controls to mitigate the risk of foodborne illness as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act.
About the Speaker: Elizabeth M. Grasso-Kelley, PhD., Assistant Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology.
Dr. Elizabeth M. Grasso-Kelley is an Assistant Professor in Food Science and Nutrition at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). She received her B.S. degree from The Pennsylvania State University and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from The Ohio State University. Following her graduation, Dr. Grasso joined the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) as part of the FDA Commissioner’s Fellowship Program. Her research focused on the survival of Salmonella in nut butter products and sanitation of pilot-scale nut butter processing equipment. In 2012 she joined IIT/IFSH to continue working in the low moisture food safety field. Her research interests include: characterizing the thermal resistance of pathogens in low moisture environments, investigating inoculation procedures for low moisture foods, and studying the survival of pathogens during storage and processing. She is the IIT lead on the IFSH Low Moisture Foods Safety Taskforce and Past-Chair of the International Association for Food Protection’s Low Water Activity Foods Professional Development Group.