A new quick test kit developed by researchers at West University in London, Ont. could detect E. coli in a romaine lettuce long before shipments hit the grocery shelves.
The patented kit detects a protein unique to E. coli 0157, and can show results in less than 24 hours. This is the same bacterial strain that causes the current outbreak in the United States and Canada.
The current testing is based on the fact that the culture is taken from possibly contaminated samples and sent for testing, with the results returning up to two weeks.
By that time, food was often sent to the market.
"Faster and cheaper"
“Our goal is to ensure that testing takes place as close as possible to the source,” said Dr. Michael Rieder, a professor at the School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University Schulich, and a researcher at the Robarts Research Institute.
"This technology works not only faster, but also cheaper, it is easy to use, and this can happen right at the factory."
The Western University kit was approved by Health Canada and is now shipped to food processing plants in North America.
“We are considering this particular biomarker because it is unique to these pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria is not bad in itself, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that can cause disease in humans, ”said Reader.
"The goal is a safer food chain for everyone to ensure the safety of the population."
Most of the work on the development of the kit was funded by a grant from Mitacs, a federal non-profit agency that encourages academic and industrial collaboration.
Western researchers have worked with a biomedical company in Toronto and London-based entrepreneurs Craig Combe and Michael Brock to develop the kit.