Food bug forensic tracking

Jan 14, 2013 by Anthony King

Detective-style high-tech methods are being used in meat factories to trace harmful microbial contaminants.

Pork factories now rely on a new kit to examine suspect meat. The technique was developed in an EU funded project called Biotracer. It relies on maths algorithms to pinpoint the most likely origin of on meat, such as salmonella. "You can use the math modelling to say that it's 90% certain the contamination came from the raw materials," explains scientist Kieran Jordan of Teagasc, the Irish agricultural research institute, in Dublin, Ireland, "or you could say that it's almost certain that it was a particular slicer in the boning hall."

A Dutch pork factory was used as a testbed for the detective-style investigation of . It works by tracing the strain and its whereabouts and could help prevent shutting down the entire processing factory for a deep clean. This approach involves fingerprinting contaminant bacteria thanks to and identifying its origin."It is not good enough to just say [bacteria] are present; you must be able to say how many. But you also need to do typing of strains [for identification]," Jordan says. Previous methods were not so precisely targeted.

"This [contamination] can occur when equipment is colonised by biofilms of salmonella living and growing on equipment that can be difficult to clean, such as de-hairing machines," Rob Davies tells youris.com. As a salmonella expert at the UK's Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, in Weybridge, he adds: "the critical thing is very regular cleaning and disinfection to avoid this. Once a complex mixture of different bacteria and accumulated form a , it is more difficult and more resistant to ."

This improved, faster detection method is not restricted to pork, nor to salmonella. It is also applicable to other harmful bugs in food such as helicobacter in chicken and in cheese, explains Jordan. "It is the math behind the method that makes a difference," he adds. "It could even be used by forensic detectives."

"It was a very ambitious project," food scientist Mansel Griffiths of the Canadian Research Institutefor Food Safety, in Guelph, Ontario tells youris.com. However, he adds: "it did succeed in identifying novel approaches to identify and trace sources of contamination of food that is imperative to ensure the safety of consumers. "According to Griffiths, who was chair of the project's international expert advisory committee, the best way to develop more effective control strategies for any foodborne pathogen is to gain a better understanding of how such pathogen functions, i.e. its physiology, how it relates to its environment, i.e. its ecology, and how it affects food born disease progression, i.e. its epidemiology.

"There has been a lot of good work done in the project but the value will come in how it is employed," comments Davies. "If it just stays in research reports, that will not be much help. But if it is taken up by Europe to identify sources of contamination in a way that can reduce human illness then it could begin to pay for itself," he adds. For now, EU regulation says plants can use traditional methods such as deep cleaning and inspections for keeping food safe. Davis concludes: "It's the future application of this type of harmonised strain tracking approach by [the European Commission], the [European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control] and the [European Safety Authority] that will make a difference."

Explore further: Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

BIOTRACER model tackles Salmonella

May 24, 2011

Protecting consumers from contaminated foods is one of the most important objectives of the EU. Helping drive this effort is the BIOTRACER ('Improved bio-traceability of unintended microorganisms and their ...

Raw chicken bacteria on the rise in Europe: study

Mar 08, 2012

A type of bacteria mostly found in raw chicken meat that can cause diarrhoea and fever is on the rise in the European Union, according to a report from European food safety agencies published on Thursday.

A zap of cold plasma reduces harmful bacteria on raw chicken

Feb 02, 2012

A new study by food safety researchers at Drexel University demonstrates that plasma can be an effective method for killing pathogens on uncooked poultry. The proof-of-concept study was published in the January issue of the ...

Recommended for you

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

Apr 17, 2014

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.