Food waste is a big issue in the UK. Food waste levels and cases of food poisoning could both be reduced if the life of fresh produce was improved and bacterial activity better controlled. Ruth's research is examining the various approaches to reducing food spoilage and food poisoning. She is looking into how bacteria, which can be amazingly robust, are affected by washing fresh produce in water, chlorine or weak acids.
After studying environmental health, Ruth came to Reading to undertake a master's in Food Technology – Quality Assurance. She chose Reading because of its strong reputation in food and nutritional sciences. Her master's dissertation (for which she won a best-dissertation prize) was on communities of microbes, known as biofilms, and this led her to explore a PhD in this area.
Ruth's PhD is jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and her industry partner AgriCoat NatureSeal Ltd. This opportunity enabled her to test some products developed by companies in the food industry and to attend a placement with the Office of Science and Technology, funded by the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST).
"I enjoy the variety within my PhD, especially the laboratory work and problem solving. I have been able to get involved in teaching and demonstrating as well as mentoring undergraduate and master's students, which I have found very rewarding."
Ruth has dyslexia and has found her Department and, in particular, her supervisor, extremely supportive.
"'I love the people and the atmosphere; it's a very friendly Department."
During her PhD, Ruth has taken a number of opportunities to widen her experience and to promote research in her area. Ruth has been invited to talk about her research on TV and radio programmes on several occasions.
When healthy foods go wrong
In 2016, Ruth won the Three Minute Thesis "People's Choice Award". In 2017, she was selected to present the annual Fairbrother Public Lecture on When healthy foods go wrong: food poisoning and fresh produce. The Lecture was extremely well received and was attended by a diverse audience including professionals from the food industry. Ruth was also joint winner of the Yakult PhD Award for Best Research Student in Food and Nutritional Sciences.
Ruth offers the following advice to new PhD students:
"Don't worry about the small things. You will have days when things don't work. Keep going and, for a little while, you will know something that no one else in the world knows!"
As Ruth approaches the completion of her PhD, she is keeping her options open for the future but is keen to continue doing practical work as this is the area of her PhD which she has enjoyed the most.