KODIAK — An experiment conducted in the name of combating a food-borne illness in cold-smoked salmon seeks 200 volunteers to try a few pieces of sockeye salmon and tell researchers how they taste.

The taste test will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Kodiak Harbor Convention Center.

The food tasting experiment comes after two years of research by graduate student Naim Montazeri at the Fisheries Industrial Technology Center in an effort to make the production of cold-smoked salmon safer by adding liquid smoke to sockeye salmon just before vacuum packing.

“The first thing is that they must like eating fish,” Montazeri said, “and then cold-smoked salmon because it is a raw product. We really need some feedback on the product and we look forward to find out what people think. When we are trying to work in the laboratory to see how liquid smoke will work, (it) is different from what the real customer will think about it.”

The taste test will include a simple questionnaire, he said.

“We are going to ask if the products are different or identical and if you think they are different, then which one you prefer,” Montazeri said. “They can provide us comments that will help us in our future research.”

Scientifically, one of the great benefits of being in a community such as Kodiak Island is that the experiment will attract experts in smoked salmon, said associate professor Alexandra de Oliveira, who is advising Montazeri on the project.

“Folks here know their smoked salmon,” de Oliveira said.

“Basically, we’re getting the best taste buds to come and give us their opinion,” she said, adding that participants will get a good quantity of salmon to sample.

The process of cold smoking does not count as cooking and does not kill all harmful bacteria that could possibly contaminate a fish. For this reason, the Food and Drug Administration has classified cold smoked salmon as a potentially hazardous food for certain groups of people.

Montazeri’s work has been to see what type of liquid smoke had the greatest ability to reduce the bacteria listeria monocytogenes while not affecting the quality of the sockeye salmon.

“In traditional liquid smoke, if you add it to food it will affect the quality characteristics, very much so,” Montazeri said.

Research into other ways to reduce bacteria in cold-smoked salmon, such as relying on other antibacterial solutions, interacted with the salmon’s color or smoked flavor.

“One of the main ways to enhance the safety of the cold-smoked product is to increase the amount of smoke without changing the quality characteristics,” Montazeri said.

One potential benefit of the research and further study to smoked salmon processors in Alaska could be that the additional step of adding liquid smoke convinces the FDA that a cold-smoked fish product may not be such a risk to people more prone to listeriosis, which is caused by the listeria bacteria, Oliveira said.

The high-risk people include pregnant women, older adults and people with weakened immune systems.

“Consumers are looking at this quite closely,” Oliveira said, “and maybe avoiding consumption of a product that has incredible nutrition … because FDA has categorized (it) under a high-risk food.”

The experiment asks for participants between the ages of 18 and 65. The upper age limit is not due to older adults’ taste buds not being sharp enough, Oliveira said.

“We would very much like to open the taste panel to all ages,” she said. “But it is for their own safety that we have to do this. Unfortunately, it is a high-risk product. But if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be studying it.”

The mortality rate of people in the high-risk groups after they have developed listeriosis is about one in three, Oliveira said, and with pregnant women risks are much higher.

That means that this experiment, in addition to removing the high-risk groups, is doing everything it can to avoid contamination.

Everyone involved in the experiment has passed a food safety and handling course through the university, Montazeri said.

In addition, the graduate student has been taking randomly selected samples of the sockeye salmon prepared for the experiment and testing them for listeria.

The research team has also gotten the OK from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to serve the food, he said.

“We just try to do our best to serve a safe food product,” Montazeri said.

Contact Mirror writer Wes Hanna at whanna@kodiakdailymirror.com.

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