The EU-funded project, Bugcheck, has developed a device that speeds up pathogen detection, allowing processors to spot contamination before it spreads further -- or reaches consumers.
Foodborne pathogens in processed ready-to-eat products pose a serious threat to consumers. Contamination can lead to expensive recalls and possible damage to a processor's reputation and brands.
Sensitive, specific and rapid detection of such pathogens is thus essential at production level to prevent their entrance into the human food chain.
In preparation for the release of the new device to the market, expected next year, Bugcheck is conducting an online market survey to find out from food processors their requirements for such a device.
The input will be used to determine the features of the final system, said a spokesperson at CRIC, a research centre based in Spain.
The researchers have designed a biosensor based on electrochemical impedace spectroscopy (EIS), which they say is an alternative tool for the detection of low numbers of cells in a question of minutes. Testers do not have to complete enrichment steps for detecting pathogens.
Recently, immunosensors using EIS have been developed for the measurement of antigens binding to antibody molecules immobilised on the sensor's surface.
Conventional microbiological detection methods can take from two to seven days to detect and identify pathogens in food. Other traditional testing methods, such as ELISA, are also relatively costly and time-consuming.
Traditional methods require the taking of a product sample, its posterior culturing until sufficient microorganisms have been generated to enable ready detection on culture plates. While a number of methods, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), may provide results in less than 12 hours, they involve complex procedures and highly specialised trained personnel.
Current commercial equipment is around €15,000 for the detection of various pathogens, with the cost of a single analysis ranging from €2 to €5, the researchers stated.
Costs reductions can be obtained when using silica electrodes and allowing chip reutilisation, both options considered by the researchers during the two of the project. The Bugcheck device takes less than 30 minutes to complete an analysis, with a short sample enrichment time.
"The scientific results of this project will lead to important competitive advantages through the development of a new technological platform," the researchers stated in describing their findings. "The latter will serve to launch an analytical product line to control various microbiological pathogens. An important market exists for the proposed analysers, which will be of use not only in off-site analytical laboratories or large animal plants. The device will also be affordable for smaller food producers.
Through European Commission funding, the technology developed in this project can be shared by up to eight companies, with no monetary contribution required on their part.
With an "in-kind" participation, the small group of companies will be able to share the technology, thus accessing over €1m worth of research.
To participate in the market survey, fill in the questionnaire available here.