Ideally, the instrument will be able to process large volumes of fluid to minimize the chances of a false negative result. The automated instrument will need to have the capability to concentrate the particulates in liquid samples, purify the genetic material from these particulates, and then assemble, perform, and analyze the results of multiplex qPCR tests that are designed to detect the most common pathogens that cause foodborne illness.
An added benefit would be to simultaneously quantify the level of indicator species so that the cleanliness of the product and cleaning processes in the facility could be monitored. To not hold up the packaging and shipping processes, the instrument will need to be able to return results in about an hour. This will allow food safety officers to quickly make decisions as to whether or not food items should be loaded onto trucks that are destined for the consumer or onto trucks that are destined for a test-and-hold warehouse (while they await results from samples that are pulled for traditional culture analysis).
The bottom line is that the food safety industry is in need of better tools to prevent foodborne illnesses. The industry has a willingness to pay for more expensive methods if the new methods translate into operational efficiencies and lower risk. Advancements in the industry are moving quickly, and prices are coming down. Expectations are that the wait for new technologies isn’t far away.
These new technologies are expected to empower food safety officers to change business practices where most food lots can be shipped directly to the customer, reserving only those that are found to be at a higher risk to be tested via culture. The hope is that new technologies will allow food producers to deliver fresher and safer foods to consumers, while also allowing them to maintain economic efficiencies.
Dr. Regan is the CEO and founder of LexaGene, a biotechnology company that develops automated and sensitive instrumentation for rapid pathogen detection. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.