Smart phone technology adapted for foodborne pathogen detection

By Mark Astley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Bacteria Escherichia coli

Smart phone technology adapted for foodborne pathogen detection
A new food safety testing method using liquid crystals – a technology traditionally used in smart phones and televisions – is being developed with the aim of detecting multiple harmful foodborne pathogens in a single test.

The technique, which offers significant time savings over current industry standard testing methods, is being developed by Crystal Diagnostics in conjunction with Kent State University and Northeast Ohio Medical University in the US.

The Crystal Diagnostics MultiPath SystemTM, which has been in development since 2006, uses liquid crystals to detect multiple harmful pathogens such as Listeria, E.coli and Salmonella in a single test.

The developer “expects the technology to become the standard of the food industry.”

Evaluates multiple pathogens

The company’s chief scientist Dr. Gary Niehaus told “There is extensive interest by the food industry, with several negotiations currently on-going. Crystal Diagnostics' (CDx's) current interactions with the European market are limited but will significantly expand during the next few months.”

“Thus, the food industry (safety and production) have expressed a great deal of interest in the technology.”

The technology includes two pieces of equipment; a cassette containing five individual cells, two of which are control cells and three are test cells, and a reader.

A prepared sample is mixed with liquid crystals and an antibody or antibody cocktail, for the specific pathogens being sought, and applied to the cassette.

This is then inserted into the reader and if pathogens are present, the liquid crystal will be disrupted.

The reader recognises the disruption and “simultaneously evaluates a single sample for multiple pathogens.”

The nature of the technology significantly reduces false positives and negatives, which often require longer product holds while retesting is accomplished and a serious problem for food producers.

Faster, reliable method

Crystal Diagnostics CEO Paul Repetto said: “The need for faster yet highly reliable processes to detect pathogens has never been higher given the recent deadly food outbreaks.”

Recent foodborne contaminations such as the cantaloupe-related Listeria outbreak, which to date has killed 28 people in the US, and the E.coli outbreak in Germany earlier this year, have created a higher level of awareness in the food sector.

Repetto added: “This new technology can have a profound impact on public health.”

The company intends to test the equipment in the field this autumn with leading food processing companies and laboratories before introducing it to the market in 2012.

Dr. Niehaus added: “The beta testing will be conducted against Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, and Listeria. Subsequent work will focus on Campylobacter and other shiga-producing E. coli. The technology uses highly selective antibodies for detection and identification, thus any microbe can be detected by using an appropriate antibody.”

Related topics Food Safety & Quality

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