Professor Rick Holley at the Department of Food Science at the University of Manitoba gets quoted as much as anybody in Canada on his areas of expertise.

He serves on an external advisory panel for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), and he has a knack for saying things that cannot help but get your attention.

Over the weekend, he wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press “mustard flour kills off E. coli.”

Holley says one of three areas of his research “examines the ability of natural antimicrobials, such as essential oils from spices, to inhibit these pathogens in foods; we’ve currently looking at traditional dry-cured, raw fermented sausages (Genoa, Hungarian) and dry-cured ham (prosciutto, Westphalian).  Our interest in fermented sausages came from the observation the processes currently approved for their manufacture cannot prevent final product contamination by E. coli O157:H7 if it’s present in the raw material (ground beef).

“We found that if we use cold mustard flour (treated with heat so it is no longer spicy), as an ingredient in the fermented sausage or ham, if any E. coli O157:H7 are present they will digest the flour to obtain glucose from it.  Inadvertently, they create isothiocyanates, which are toxic to the bacteria, and they essentially commit suicide during product manufacture.”

Holley is well known for saying foodborne illness makes both people and the economy sick.   He does not think its possible to inspect one’s way out of the problem.

“But you can’t inspect safety into food, he told Canada’s media.  “Anyone who thinks you can is wrong.  You have to build safety into food.  American car manufacturers learned long ago that you can’t inspect safety into automobiles; you have to build it in, and it’s no different for food manufacturing.”

In addition to his work with sausages and mustard, Holley reports he is studying zoonotic pathogen transfer in animal environments and the survival of listeria in spoiled bacteria in food.

Holley commented on his current research in The Learning Curve, an occasional Free Press column for local academics.