Scientists reported March 23 the development of the first two-in-one test that can simultaneously detect both the Escherichia coli bacteria responsible for food poisoning outbreaks, and the toxins that the bacteria use to cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and other symptoms in its victims. The test was described at the 239th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, being held in San Francisco, Cal., this week.
The E. coli O157 strain may be present in food for hours or days before improper storage conditions allow it to grow and produce the toxins that actually cause food poisoning. Those toxins can remain in food even after the bacteria are dead and gone. In the past, it took separate tests to protect against this double threat from the bacteria and the toxins.
"Our test may be used in meat processing plants to allow in-house testing of products prior to sale," said project leader Dr. John Mark Carter of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service in Albany, Cal. "This would reduce the frequency of foodborne illness, reduce product recalls and enhance public health while reducing annual cost for food testing."
The test can also be used on fruits, vegetables and beverages. USDA is working closely with Luminex Corp. to eventually commercialize the E. coli test and hope that it will be quickly adapted by government agencies involved in food inspection as well as meat processors.