The ever-emerging microbiology macrocosm is a moving target that has an integrated blend of pathogens, hosts and bug bionetworks that clearly define roles among food safety management; government, industry and consumers. While a host of complexities can make the bull’s eye of food safety a tough hit, unity among the food safety powers that be could be the silver bullet.

Beneath the soil of a strawberry field lurks a silent killer. It’s not an insect or a voracious herbivore, but it packs a mighty bite and there’s no telling when it will strike. For a strawberry grower, black root rot is a moving target, as it is a very complex, wet-soil disease caused by various pathogens and environmental factors that keep even the savviest of horticulturists guessing.

That scenario is even more intense in the ever-emerging microbiology macrocosm, another moving target that has an integrated blend of pathogens, hosts and bug bionetworks that clearly define roles among food safety management; government, industry and consumers.

According to the recently released IFT Expert Report, “Emerging Microbiological Safety Issues: Implications for Control in the 21st Century,” a science-based approach is the best defense against food safety issues.

Nailing the bull’s eye of food safety involves understanding such complexities, the IFT reports indicates, as changes in demographics, geographic origin of food, production and processing, consumption patterns and, of course, the microorganisms themselves.

And keeping that target in the crosshairs can be difficult, for with those complexities comes a host of ideologies that herald a back-to-basics approach, automated DNA technologies and the need to combat emerging food safety threats and diseases freely with microbiological tools.

“Microbiological hazards are ever-changing, and the amount and complexity of data and the residual unknowns are growing at a rapid rate,” the IFT report concludes. “Each new scientific advance gives us the opportunity to add to our knowledge of foodborne illness using new techniques and researching new questions.”

At the same time, the report indicates, human susceptibilities are increasing, yet the ability to link food to adverse health outcomes continues to improve. “The human health and economic consequences of emerging microbiological food safety issues is immense,” the report says. “International coordination of food safety efforts should be encouraged.”

Technology Shoot Out

When it comes to popping a proverbial cap in pathogen’s posterior, food safety’s weapon of choice differs.

There are PCR (polymerase chain reaction) pistols, like the BAX detection and RiboPrinter microbial characterization systems from DuPont Qualicon (Wilmington, Del.) and the Genevision from Warnex (Laval, Quebec). New to the techno-scene are the re-badged BioSys automated systems, Envisio and Soleris, now manufactured by Centrus International Inc. (Kingsport, Tenn.), an Eastman subsidiary.

Of course, there are the good old standbys, like the ELISA—the classic six-shooter of speciation.

James Nokes, laboratory director for Microbac Laboratories Inc. (Maryville, Tenn.) believes PCR- and DNA-based technologies should be the way of the future.

“We’ll get away from the 8-hour test,” he says. “It will have to get faster.”

And in some cases, it already has. BioControl Systems, Inc. (Bellevue, Wash.) has unveiled several DNA-based products that yield quick results. Earlier this year, it unveiled its Assurance GDS for E. coli 0157: H7 test, which provides results in an eight-hour shift. Completing the system is the Assurance GDS Rotor-Gene, a multi-channel rotary cycler, which eliminates ambiguous melt curves and provides results in just 70 minutes.

BioControl also announced that its SimPlate Coliform / E. coli Color Indicator (CEc-CI) was also approved as AOAC Official Method 2005.03. SimPlate CEc-CI is a rapid method for quantifying both total coliforms and E. coli from food and environmental samples in only 24 hours.

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