PEORIA - Everything we eat needs to be checked for things that could make us sick.
Well, those 'checks' take place at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Lab in Peoria.
"Our job is to - through a variety of ways - improve the safety of the food supply and the productivity of the American farm," said lead food safety researcher Todd Ward.
Recently, Ward and his staff got a new toy. The machine is called "the proton," and it detects and finds ways to attack dangerous, even deadly, bacteria in food.
"You really have the specificity that the DNA technologies offer to identify those bacteria and kind of fingerprint them, just like we do human fingerprints in crime investigations," Ward said.
With this device, researchers can examine hundreds to thousands of bacteria in one day. Before, that would have taken months or years. In fact, it allows scientists to investigate full genomes, where bacteria are located, which previously was not capable at the Peoria location. Now, the staff can detect harmful bacteria, develop new technologies and protect food quicker.
"You're going to reduce the size of outbreaks because you can get those recalls in faster and material can be pulled from the shelves before it ever ends up in the refrigerator," said Ward.
Ward says the staff is already producing groundbreaking results, and making sure what's on your plate is safe to eat.
Also, some local college students are getting hands-on experience with those new technologies. This week, 12 Northeastern Illinois students are spending their spring break as interns at the Peoria Agriculture Lab. They get to shadow top-notch scientists and see what its like to work in a real lab. The students say it confirms that science is cool.
"It's very exciting. It's very exciting. I look forward to coming here in the morning. Not really a morning person, but in this case, I will make the exception," said Anthony Smith.
This is only the second year of the program. The students will finish up their internships on Friday.