Men's Lacrosse Captain Earns Recognition for Research

Friday, June 6, 2014

As starting goalie for the Muhlenberg men’s lacrosse team for the last two seasons, Adam Schlauch has faced Bears (Ursinus), Ducks (Stevens) and even Black Squirrels (Haverford). He has also taken on a different type of animal – chickens.

Adam Schlauch Schlauch recently won honorable mention at the Penn State Public Health Day Symposium in Hershey, Pa., for a poster presentation titled “How Safe Is Your Chicken? The Prevalence of Campylobacter spp. on Retail Chicken Breasts Collected from Supermarkets in the Lehigh Valley.”

The presentation came after nearly two years of research by Schlauch, a rising senior biology major and public health minor who is interested in microbiology and preventative health. The idea for the topic hatched after he read some literature that bacteria had been found in retail meats.

Schlauch wrote the research proposal during the summer after his freshman year. After it was accepted, he spent the first semester (Fall 2012) mostly designing the methodology, through trial and error, for his tests.

The next two semesters were spent doing the actual research. “You can only test about six chicken breasts per week,” he explained. “You want to shoot for a sample size of about 50 or 60 to identify a trend. Between lacrosse and my other extracurricular activities, it took multiple weeks.”

This past semester, Schlauch gathered and reflected upon the data, writing a paper on his findings and preparing the poster.

The first step in conducting the research was obtaining samples, which involved a series of shopping trips. “I got to about 10 or 12 supermarkets in the Lehigh Valley, and within them there were probably about 25 brands, ranging from the supermarket brands to national brands like Perdue and Tyson. I grabbed all the brands the supermarket had at the time,” he said.

“I got a couple of strange looks coming to the register with all these chicken breasts that were different brands,” he added with a laugh.

Using sterile technique in an on-campus laboratory, Schlauch soaked the chicken breasts in plastic bags that contained a special broth. Instead of going on to bread the chicken breasts, as cooks might do, he incubated the broth for 24 hours under conditions that the Campylobacter bacteria likes.

The next day, he came back and tested for the presence of the offending bacteria, which Schlauch says is “the third- or fourth-leading food pathogen and causes about 50,000 hospitalizations with gastrointestinal disease per year. It’s a big public health concern.”

All right, first the bad news: Schlauch observed a 66 percent contamination rate in the chicken breasts he tested. That number (which was about the same for store brands and name brands) is consistent, though on the high end, with the FDA’s findings that 40-70 percent of chicken is contaminated.

Now the good news: If you cook a chicken breast properly, all the way through so there is no pink on the inside, it will be fine because the heat of the oven or grill will neutralize the bacteria. Where problems can arise – and what Schlauch is seeking to make people aware of – is in the handling of the raw meat.

Adam Schlauch
Schlauch was second in the Centennial Conference in saves per game (11.43) in 2014.
“Some people aren’t educated about how to handle the chicken,” he said. “They might touch the raw chicken and then touch the refrigerator door. Then their kid might touch the refrigerator door and put his hand in his mouth. You need to be constantly aware of what you’re touching and constantly washing your hands, especially when you have children or people who are immuno-compromised.

“It should be recommended not to wash the chicken, but just to put it right on the grill or in the oven,” he added. “Evidence suggests that when you spray the chicken with water, the bacteria goes into the air.”

Schlauch, who plans to go to medical school for a medical doctorate and master’s in public health and pursue a career in either oncology, emergency medicine or infectious disease, will expand upon his research next year for his honor’s thesis. The next steps are to test organically raised chickens to see if there is any difference in the contamination rate and to investigate antibiotic resistance in the bacteria.

There will be no coasting through his senior year for Schlauch, who has shown that he’s not “chicken” of being kept busy. This summer, he has three jobs: an internship with an oncologist in his home state of New Jersey, a volunteer position in the emergency/same-day surgery department at St. Luke’s Hospital and work as a medical scribe (following resident physicians around as they see patients and typing information into an electronic system) at the Lehigh Valley Health Network.

In addition to his research last year, he served as a hospice volunteer and a tutor for biology and chemistry as well as shadowing doctors for internships.

Then there’s lacrosse. While standing in front of a cage as players fire high-velocity shots at you may not sound like most people’s idea of a fun getaway, for Schluach it gives him a chance to take a break from his studies.

“Being on the lacrosse field, I have the opportunity for a few hours to play with passion the sport I love and put the books behind me,” said Schlauch, who has made the Dean’s List every semester at Muhlenberg.

And although Schlauch may not take his pre-med knowledge out onto the lacrosse field, he definitely takes the lessons he learns as a Mule into the rest of his life.

“I was lucky enough to be a captain as a junior, and being able to step up in times where there might be a certain challenge gave me leadership skills,” he said. “You have to collaborate with 30-40 guys who all have a common interest in winning but might have different ideas of how to get there.”

The position Schlauch plays also gives him a unique foundation for his future endeavors.

“Being able to work under pressure, especially being a goalie, completely translates,” he noted. “If I’m in the emergency room or in overtime, it’s the same pressure. That’s a characteristic that I’m looking forward to developing.”