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Hands-free dispenser sticks on E. coli research

It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention. In the world of gift-giving, never has this been more true

By Keener A. Tippin II



Necessity has given birth to novel ideas for the gift wrapping-impaired: gift bags, plastic food storage bags that can be used to package and seal gifts, tape dispensers that can be worn on the wrist similar to a watch or bracelet.

Indispensability was also the mother of invention for researchers from the department of animal sciences and industry at K-State.

Daniel Y.C. Fung, a K-State professor of animal sciences and industry, was looking for an easier method to conduct microbial sampling of meat surfaces. But don't tell Fung television has little redeeming qualities -- that's where he found the answer to a problem that has inconvenienced him for almost two decades.

In 1980, Fung and other researchers performed a detailed study on an adhesive tape method for estimating microbial load on meat surfaces. While there are several methods to obtain viable cell counts of all types of food, one of the simplest methods to monitor microbial load is surface sampling of foods. Fung said these surface samples provide the most useful representation of microbial contamination on carcass and intact meat because "the surface area is the most likely to be contaminated during processing and the interior meat is essentially sterile."

Those tests concluded that the results with the tape method correlated directly with the conventional excision method. Fung also discovered the tape method was more convenient to operate, saved considerable amounts of laboratory materials and provided useful microbiological information of meat surfaces.

But the method was not without its problems.

Getting the tape onto the meat surface was akin to a juggling act. Researchers were required to use both hands to peel the tape from the protective material prior to placing it on the meat surface to remove the microbes.

"The protective material then had to be discarded and the tape had to be applied to the agar surface to transfer the microorganisms onto the agar, Fung said. "After one experiment the analyst would have to drop everything, pick up another conventional tape and peel the protective material away to start another experiment. The procedure is simple but cumbersome -- especially during studies in a meat processing plant."

Nearly 20 years after his initial research, Fung found the answer to his dilemma while watching a television commercial in 1999. It was the Christmas season and the ad was espousing the benefits of a hands-free tape dispenser worn on the wrist for those soon to be wrapping Christmas presents. Fung immediately realized the gadget was the solution to his problems and rushed out to buy dozens of the dispensers and replacement tape.

The device allows researchers to dispense a piece of tape while keeping their hands free to place the adhesive on a piece of meat, and place the strip with microorganisms from the meat surface on an agar. As the first piece of tape breaks away, another piece is automatically pulled partially from the dispenser chamber and is ready for use.

"This is so much more convenient," Fung said. "In the conventional method you have to cut the meat up, blend it, dilute it and do all other kinds of things, but using this method you can just slap it on and pull it off. When you're ready for the next piece of tape it is already out."

Fung has contacted the maker of the tape dispenser about his creative use of their product. He has yet to hear back from the company but indicated that this method may help other laboratories to obtain surface sampling more conveniently.

Fung, along with a research team consisting of Curtis Kastner, professor of animal sciences and industry; Beth Ann Crozier-Dodson, graduate student in food science, and Leslie Thompson, graduate student in food science, completed the study using the hands-free tape dispenser method compared with the conventional swab/rinse method to obtain bacteria from meat surfaces.

Spring 2002