The food safety test cartridge should be available for food producers by next year.

Checking food products for bacteria could be revolutionized by a Colorado company.   Beacon Biotechnology in Aurora, Colorado is in the process of creating a food safety test cartridge that looks like a USB drive. Company officials said the cartridge will be able to detect food-borne illnesses in 30 minutes.



Right now, it takes food safety inspectors two days to test for bacteria. Inspectors swab a product and put that swab in a Petri dish for 24 hours, and then they test the growth for specific bacteria over the next 24 hours.

“We plan to do it in 30 minutes or less,” said Fred Mitchell, chairman of Beacon Food Safety.

Based on the computer chip being honed at Beacon Biotechnology, Mitchell told 7NEWS he thinks he could have prevented the current salmonella outbreak that has resulted in 550 million eggs being recalled.

“We could have given a heads up. We could have let the producers know that there’s salmonella in the eggs,” said Mitchell. “Every 10 or every 20th egg, they would pull one out, run it on our device and within 30 minutes they would know if this group of eggs was free. We couldn’t say that every egg was free of pathogen because we wouldn’t have tested every egg.”

Because it takes two days to test the food, currently that food may be shipped out to store shelves before the test results are known. Keeping the food in “quarantine” until the results come back could cost food producers millions in delays.

“They just simply ship it and if their follow up testing says that there’s a pathogen there, they have to recall that, and by that time it’s probably eaten,” said Mitchell.

The food safety test cartridge could provide results before the food gets loaded onto a truck, he said.

“You would test about every 30 minutes, and then you could release your food product every 30 minutes,” said Mitchell. “It would be very cost-effective and those savings can be passed along to the consumers.”

The computer chip inside the cartridge would be able to detect numerous strains of bacteria, he said.

“We place a test for E.coli or salmonella or listeria,” said Mitchell.

A sample of the food gets put on a hole at the end of the USB device. The USB device goes into a computer or personal digital assistant, or PDA, and the chip detects whether or not the food contains bacteria.

“You would just put your sample on it, and then it would pop up, ‘Yes’ for salmonella or ‘No’ for listeria,” said senior scientist Dr. Tina Roark.

The device would also contain numerous markers for the same bacteria, to avoid a false-positive or false-negative result.

“The biggest concern would be a false negative. We would have three different markers for each pathogen, so that each marker would need to be positive to ensure stringency of the test,” said Mitchell.

The food safety test cartridge should be available for food producers by next year.

“Both in a production environment, where they’re meat packing, making food, producing food or in a restaurant environment, where they can check the surface of their food preparation areas,” said Mitchell. “You probably wouldn’t use this in your home; this is really targeted for the food producers.”

Mitchell cautions that the testing only indicates bacteria. It’s up to the food producers to not ship the product out to consumers.

Beacon Biotechnology won Inventor of the Year at the DaVinci Institute’s 4th annual Colorado Inventor Showcase in 2008 for Beacon’s BrightSPOT Reader.  The BrightSPOT Reader is a hand-held device to provide instant diagnoses of any disease imaginable.

Via The Denver Channel