A new rapid testing kit for E.coli aims to revolutionise food safety testing by producing results in hours rather than days.
Developed by researchers at Western University in Canada, the kit detects E. coli 0157, the same food-borne bacteria causing the current outbreak in the US and Canada linked to romaine lettuce.
It has been approved by Health Canada and translated for commercial use, with he first production lot now making its way to food processing plants in North America.
The kit detects a protein unique to the pathogenic E. coli bacteria and using flow through technology is able show results in under 24 hours.
The process works in much the same way as a pregnancy test – showing one line for negative and two lines for positive.
Current food testing methods typically rely on culture, which requires samples to be sent away for testing, with results taking up to two weeks to come back. By that time, the food has often been shipped to market and large recalls have to occur.
“Our goal is to get the testing to occur as close as possible to the source,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and scientist at Robarts Research Institute.
“This technology is not only faster, but it’s less expensive, it’s easy to use, and it can occur right in the processing plant.”
He added: “We are looking at this specific biomarker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria itself isn’t bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that will cause people to get sick.
“The goal is a safer food chain for everyone so that public safety can be assured.”