Demeter automates the traditionally manual, dehydrated media reagent preparation step for increased testing throughput and accuracy.
The system records the volumetric amounts and temperatures (NIST traceable) used in a test, feeding that information into a laboratory information management system (LIMS), streamlining recordkeeping for regulatory compliance.
Testing for pathogens has been a slow, manual process, with risks of human errors. Long incubation times are typically required for media preparation, and the extensive use of autoclaves at various steps in the process is time-consuming and expensive, said the firm.
From manual to automation
Steve Hausle, VP of sales and marketing for Heateflex, said the Demeter integrates into the front end of the media preparation process where most steps have historically been manual.
“Traditionally, powdered testing media must be weighed and put in a beaker, and then lab testing water must be prepared, added to the beaker, stirred and heated, and then autoclaved to ensure sterilization prior to starting the incubation step to test the food sample,” he told FoodQualityNews.
“Demeter automates many of these processes by quickly and very precisely filling each test beaker each time with the exact amount of test fluid required at the proper testing temperature.”
Hausle said the benefits are several fold.
“One is reduced sample incubation time since the media enters the test beaker at the proper test temperature, the second is reduced use of autoclaves for media sterilization since pre-packaged sterilized media may now be used in test beakers (which frees up lab autoclaves for use in waste treatment processes),” he said.
“[The third benefit is] decreased cycle times for testing, meaning increased revenues for contract food testing labs or higher productivity for in-house food testing labs.”
Hausle added the system helps to automate the increased documentation that will be required by the Food Safety Modernization Act, and is more accurate than recording by hand into a lab notebook.
Demeter was developed to test for food pathogens including E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
Typical media/buffers used include buffered peptone water, Butterfield’s buffer, Tryplicane soy broth, and lactose broth.
The amount of test time varies with the pathogen being tested for and the buffer being used.
Demeter prints out the test parameters of a sample to be tested (media used, temperature, volume, etc.) on a bar code label which is affixed to the test beaker, and subsequently scanned into a bar code scanner incorporated in the system.
Data for up to the last 100 test samples are stored in the system, and may be downloaded to a LIMS.
Food testing path
A commercial food test laboratory contacted the firm around five years ago with a request to double the number of tests that could be processed in a day.
“Heateflex designed, engineered and manufactured a semi-automated media preparation tool that would deliver the correct volume of water at the temperature required,” said Hausle.
“This was a dramatic departure from their existing SOP and upon installation of the Heateflex tool, they realized an even more dramatic increase approaching 10 times within some of their facilities.”
Hausle said the firm has more than 40 years of experience in developing products for precisely heating and cooling liquids and gases for use in semiconductor manufacturing.
“The Heateflex core competencies in precision heat engineering for semiconductor manufacturing applications, developed over the four decades of the company’s history, are highly transferable to the emerging demands in food testing labs for both higher testing productivity and accuracy in test results.”