Scientists at Aberdeen research centre The Macaulay Institute have received funding to mass produce a kit that tests for a number of food contaminants in a few hours.
The researchers claim that by 2010 the project will roll out technology that will cut detection times for food poisoning bugs such as Compylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella from six days to just five hours, making it the fastest on the market.
According to the Macaulay Institute’s Dr Brajesh Singh, who leads the project, the new technology could prevent thousands of deaths every year from food poisoning outbreaks.
‘The conventional methods for detecting food contamination used by industries and regulatory agencies are labour intensive, time consuming and costly,’ he said. ‘Our proposed technology offers for the first time, at low cost, the simultaneous detection of multiple contaminants within five to eight hours, and has the potential to revolutionise the food safety industry and save lives through prevention of food poisoning epidemics.
‘We believe that this technology provides a real opportunity to make Scotland a world-leader in microbial diagnostics and industrial microbiology. A combination of an excellent skill base, innovative science, leading regulatory agencies, and industrial track-record places Scotland at the forefront of this technological arena.’
While the technology will initially focus on contaminant detection in food and the environment, it has wider applications and will be attractive to healthcare, forensic and remediation industries.
Funded by Scottish Enterprise’s Proof of Concept programme, the £246,000 project’s aim is to be in a position to sell products worldwide by 2010 via a spin-out company, which will also analyse food samples and develop more products.
The test kit works by analysing a food sample for specific food pathogens and is able to detect multiple microbial contaminants in food, water and environmental samples. This method allows dual detection of pathogens and determines if they are capable of producing toxins or whether they have antibiotic resistance. It offers improved diagnostic potential to identify the source of contamination and therefore save lives.