Spotlight: Scientist

Lynne McLandsborough

Lynne McLandsborough - Lynne McLandsborough Ph.D.

Lynne McLandsborough Ph.D.

Associate Professor

University of Massachusetts Amherst

B.A. Microbiology, Miami University (Ohio)
Ph.D. Food Science, University of Minnesota

Dr. Lynne McLandsborough attended Miami University as an undergraduate. During her course work she was exposed to the field of microbiology where her interest in applied microbiology propelled her interest in food science. Now Dr. McLandsborough is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst where she continues to research the biophysical interaction of bacteria with surfaces. CPS staffer Connie Arana spoke with Dr. McLandsborough about her career path and current project at CPS.

What influenced you to work with in food safety?
Originally I was a biology major. The first microbiology class made me fall in love with the field. I really enjoyed the experimental design aspect.  What I thought was fascinating was trying to study a bacteriological system that you could not see. It wasn’t until my senior year in college when I took an applied microbiology class that I learned about food science and food safety. Once I was exposed to food safety, which combined my two loves of food and microbiology, I knew I wanted to continue in this field. As an undergraduate I did some independent study with Staphylococcus aureus which influenced my master’s work.

How did you learn about CPS?
I learned about the Center for Produce Safety through a grant call. I was sent an email newsletter describing the process and due dates. 

CPS recently funded “Survival, transfer, and inactivation of Salmonella on plastic materials used in tomato harvest,” can you go over the project objectives?  Any updates?
For the project we had simple objectives. The first objective was to get hard scientific data to see if Salmonella can survive on plastic surfaces. Coming into the grant I was pretty sure they were going to survive, but I was not sure about the best way to test this in the laboratory. We proposed to inoculate the surfaces along with different amounts of organic soil and farm soil. The second objective was to look at how the bacteria on the surfaces can transfer to tomatoes. I am still looking at how this can occur as well as the influence of moisture, material type and wear and soil on this process. The third objective was to come up with sanitizing recommendations for industry. These sanitation methods would help remove the bacteria from the surfaces.

We have completed the first objective and have some interesting results. We looked at surfaces inoculated with Salmonella just in water, and Salmonella inoculated in water with some organic contamination with and without with farm soil.  From these trials we saw an amazing increase in survival when the soil was added. We then repeated this process with just farm soil and we saw an even higher survival rate. Using microscopy, we see that some of the bacteria are actually sticking to surfaces, which include mica and sand components in the farm soil. This may be contributing to why the bacteria are surviving at a greater rate in the presence of soil.

What do you think the industry will gain from your research project?
Producers were switching from wooden crates to plastic crates thinking that plastic crates are more sanitary. Our research will show industry that there is still potential for bacteria survival on plastic crates. We will emphasize cleaning and sanitation methods that are key in preventing threats from organisms. 

Where do you see food safety in five years down the road?  Why?
The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will have a large influence. No one really knows quite yet what will happen, but this change will have lasting affects in the next few years.

What are key factors influencing this field of inquiry?
The produce industry has received a lot of fire recently, but the reality is outbreaks are really hard to control. It is difficult to account for things in the field, and methods to control wildlife. Anything you can control, for example the sanitation of your buckets, is something that should be done. There are so many factors that cannot be controlled; in a lot of ways I think the key is to focus on what can be controlled.

What does a normal day consist of?
A normal day consists of meeting with the graduate students in my lab. I also meet with a lot of undergraduate students in our department. I try to spend my afternoons writing and I also teach.  My interests outside the office are being with my children, going to their sports and games. I really enjoy gardening and, if I could hide away by myself, I like to sew.

Please describe one or more of your career highlights.
A career highlight of mine is aiding in the purchase of our atomic force microscope at the university. The atomic force microscope was developed by physicists and uses a laser focused on the end of a microscopic cantilever.  The cantilever comes into contact with the sample and can take an image of the surface topography.  Having this instrument has allowed us to be able to train students on its use to image bacteria and look at the surface “stickiness” of the bacteria. It has been really fun and exciting to expand my research with this instrument.