In Person: Susan Bach battles E. coli on leafy greens
Wheeling her Honda Shadow out of the garage of her Peachland home, Susan Bach says, “Riding a motorcycle gives you a whole other perspective on your surroundings. You experience the sights, smells and sounds so differently.”
A close connection to her natural surroundings is important to Susan who grew up in the farming community of Fisher Branch in the north Interlake area of Manitoba.
“I spent a lot of my childhood outside and after high school, I worked for several years at Hecla Island Provincial Park,” she says.
Almost every day in the warmer months, Susan is on the trails around Peachland hiking with her golden retriever, Jake, a certified St. John Ambulance therapy dog. Although she can’t take him motorcycling, he does go for a car ride every Saturday morning to the Village at Smith Creek in West Kelowna where he visits residents in assisted living.
“Jake makes them happy. They even buy special treats for him.” She recalls one elderly gentleman who would give the dog pieces of his peanut butter sandwich. “Jake would jump in bed with him and snuggle.”
When she’s not riding or partnering Jake, Susan, who holds a PhD in food microbiology and animal science from the University of Manitoba, works as a research scientist at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland. Her research focuses on the persistence and prevalence of E. coli O157 on leafy greens like lettuce and spinach. “The results will help determine what areas to target for control,” she says.
E. coli is commonly found in cattle and other livestock. In humans, it causes the well-known symptoms of food poisoning. Common means of infection include direct contact with animals, drinking untreated water and eating improperly cooked contaminated meat and unpasteurized milk and milk products. The bacteria can also be introduced to leafy greens at any point from field to plate by workers with contaminated hands, Susan explains.
“A growing number of human infections are related to the increased popularity of processed packaged fresh greens. At home I wash leafy greens well, use different cutting boards for vegetables and meat, and cook ground beef thoroughly,” says Susan, who enjoys spending time in her kitchen.
She has a special interest in learning to prepare international food, a spin-off from her frequent work-related trips around the globe. She often gathers with friends to prepare new recipes, but she doesn’t neglect traditional family favourites. “I make my mother and grandmother’s recipes for cabbage rolls and perogies from scratch,” she says.
Looking forward, Susan wants to continue riding her motorcycle to work, hiking with Jake and travelling. She’s also training for a half marathon.