An important part of learning is understanding how to use theory in practical applications – this is why my student internship has been such a rewarding experience.
Through my education, I already had a great primer in traditional food safety testing methods. This includes culture-based methods for enumeration and detection, like aerobic plate counts; and rapid detection techniques, like flow cytometry. But I had never put them into practice.
Working in the food safety testing lab at Maxxam, a North American leader in the industry, I had an opportunity to take the concepts I learned in the classroom and apply them in a real commercial setting; one of the highlights was getting to work with 3M™ Petrifilm™ Products.
Overcoming limitations of traditional food safety testing methods.
While working with traditional food safety methods, there are certain problems I have encountered:
- Cell damage: While using the pour plate technique, the heat from the agar can damage cells.
- Difficulty in differentiation: It’s hard to differentiate food particles from colonies in some food matrices.
- Lack of space: Incubation is difficult as the agar plates can take up a lot of space.
When I started my student internship, I was tasked with running a validation study that covered aerobic colony counts in a variety of food matrices, only this time, I was given 3M™ Petrifilm™ Brand to complete the task.
I was impressed by how quick and reliable this testing method was. In my experience, 3M™ Petrifilm™ Brand is easier to interpret than other traditional methods. It has brightly coloured colonies and a reduced presence of motile bacteria (spreaders), which can spread over the plate and make it difficult to get an accurate count. This made me feel a lot more confident in my work – which is especially important as an intern!
The need for speed in a food safety testing lab.
Even though our professors taught us about the time crunch, you can’t fully appreciate how intense the pressure is until you’re working in it.
In commercial food safety testing labs, fast, reliable results are everything. We need to know when a contaminant has entered a sample to help our customers restrain outbreaks, identify the problem, and resolve it as soon as possible. Traditional food safety testing methods don’t always enable us to do this. When testing for aerobic enumeration for example, the testing methods are labour intensive and can take a few days for results.
With 3M™ Petrifilm™ Brand, the plates come sample-ready, eliminating the time it takes to prepare an agar dish. They are also easier to handle and take up less space to incubate. It was a great way to streamline the food safety testing process and you can obtain results in as little as 24 hours - another reason why I love 3M™ Petrifilm™ Brand Plates.
How I will use my student internship experience in my career.
My goal for my student internship was to broaden my knowledge of food microbiology and practice the theories I learned in school.
Besides learning critical workplace skills, such as working with a diverse team and time management, I have also gained a much deeper understanding of the food safety industry and how we can test for contaminants better.
As I wrap up my final year of school and prepare to look for jobs in my field, I hope I will be able to take this new knowledge – and new favourite product – with me.