From lab to countertop: a partnership for healthy, safe fermented food
UC Davis professor and microbiologist Maria Marco works with Cooperative Extension assistant specialist Erin DiCaprio and the UC Master Food Preserver program to research and share information on the safety and quality of fermented foods. With funding from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, their work is a model of the land grant mission of teaching, research and extension.
Marco investigates food fermentation and the ways that bacteria in those foods benefit human health, so it was a logical fit for DiCaprio and UC Master Food Preservers to engage with her in their work. “Currently, there is a lack of accessible, accurate scientific information on fermented foods that we can utilize in extension programming,” DiCaprio said. “I’ve been working with the program, providing support around fermented food safety. We do some rather extreme vetting of the resources that we use to teach the public, as you can imagine.”
The collaboration is critical given the rise in popularity of home fermenting. The UC Master Food Preserver program has strict guidelines for research-based information to include in recipes or practices, and the volunteers want to help expand and advocate for that research base
The pandemic closures required the team to develop creative solutions to achieve their goals. They requested samples from home fermenters to examine microbial makeup and they ferment olives and sauerkraut with students in a controlled manner—with replicates and sharing exact recipe materials. “We moved the laboratory from campus to our homes,” said Marco, “and what's been fascinating is how different our ferments look from one another, using the same ingredients, the same recipe, and presumably under the same temperature!”
Color variance after olive fermentation
DiCaprio noted that they planned to travel to multiple counties for in-person workshops based on the new educational materials but had to transition to an online format. This made the information available to the public as well as MFP volunteers, and there were 500 webinar registrants.
“This collaboration spans perfectly what the goal of the land grant institution is—we have the basic research going on in the laboratory, we have translation of that data into easily accessible materials for stakeholders, and then we have the volunteers in the counties that are disseminating that information in the community,” said DiCaprio.
“Collaborating and communicating with extension will really benefit AES faculty career development, and will be transformative for some,” said Marco.
Watch a short video about the collaboration
Zoe Mitchell, undergraduate researcher and lead on olive fermentation project