Every year, the federal government launches numerous investigations into foodborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogens such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.
Shockingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million people suffer from foodborne illnesses annually, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths.
Salmonella is a notorious culprit, frequently associated with chicken and eggs, and it is more likely to affect rural and low-income communities.
To combat this issue, a collaborative research team led by the University of Missouri, with contributions from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Lincoln University, Auburn University, and the University of Notre Dame, are pioneering rapid detection technology that can significantly bolster the safety and resilience of the chicken supply chain.
This team received a $750,000 funding award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to complete this important work.
Right now, it takes a few days, usually three, for salmonella test results to come back, which is just too long for how our supply chain works.
Yes, the USDA does test food regularly for the bacteria, but the samples have to travel to off-site laboratories.
By the time the USDA gets their results back, the food has already been shipped off and is sitting on grocery store shelves or is already on consumer’s plates.
Cue this new research that’s meant to change it all.
This team of researchers has successfully created a portable sensor that can detect even a small amount of salmonella within an hour.
They’re also developing a second optical sensor that’s even quicker, which can provide results in under ten minutes.
The sensors can also pick up on listeria, E. coli, and staph.
What Does This New Testing Mean?
This handheld tester will radically change our supply chain’s overall safety and efficiency.
Saving Lives and Maintaining Better Health
Carlton Adams, Chief Operating Officer of Operation Food Search, an organization dedicated to distributing donated food to numerous agencies across eastern Missouri and southern Illinois, says that this will drastically change how his non-profit operates.
Carlton Adams underscores the paramount importance of ensuring that the food they deliver to food pantries is of the highest quality, packed with nutritional value, and, above all, dependable for the individuals who rely on it.
He passionately rejects the idea that access to good food should be determined by one’s financial success or lack thereof, saying,
“This notion that you don’t deserve to have good food because you didn’t get straight A’s in capitalism, that’s crazy.”
These sensors could make a world of difference for food pantries.
Sometimes power outages happen, and when the power is out, more people will be in need of food.
And ironically, that’s when the food banks are most likely to have to throw away food due to a lack of refrigeration.
With rapid-use sensors, these organizations can test foods that temporarily lost power and then salvage safer foods rather than tossing them all out.
More people will be fed, and less food will be wasted.
Operation Food Search feeds more than 200,000 people every month, distributing over $30 million worth of feed each year.
On this massive scale, having a quick and portable tester could save thousands upon thousands of pounds of food for every instance that it is used.
It Saves Valuable Time and Resources
Not only does this have the potential to prevent more than a hundred thousand hospitalizations and three thousand deaths a year, but it will also save producers a lot of valuable time and money.
They will no longer have to put out expensive recalls, less meat will be wasted, and semis will no longer waste precious fuel (and the driver’s time) hauling contaminated foods to stores.
Grocery stores will not have to check on their shelves and dig through pallets of food to identify and throw away large quantities of questionable chicken (and other products).
Now with the sensor, the food will be identified as contaminated and removed from the supply chain before it ever has a chance to get on the truck, let alone be stocked on store shelves or on American plates.