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USDA Devises Faster Screening for Campylobacter

Not exactly a household word, Campylobacter is nonetheless one of the top five infectious organisms causing foodborne illness and ranks among the top four foodborne pathogens when it comes to sending its victims to the hospital.

Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research arm has come up with a faster way to detect Campylobacter in food samples like raw chicken, speeding up a lengthy process that otherwise can take several days or up to a week.



As reported in the January 2011 edition of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Research Briefs, scientists with the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) have developed a high-tech solution called hyperspectral imaging–combining digital imaging and spectroscopy–to screen for Campylobacter in as little as 24 hours.

The research was led by ARS scientists in Athens, GA.  Findings from the study were published in the journal Sensing and Instrumentation for Food Quality and Safety.


According to the study, differentiating microorganisms in the lab is a time-consuming and complicated process because Campylobacter requires complex media for growth and bacteria look so much alike.

But the unique fingerprints of microorganisms show up in a specific portion of the eclectromagnetic spectrum, and can be identified by measuring light waves that bounce off or go through them.  Hyperspectral imaging measures visible light but also ultraviolet and near-infrared light, so this “sensing” technology can not only isolate pure cultures of microorganisms but also can be highly accurate in detecting presumptive colonies in mixed cultures.

The researchers, according to the USDA, are working toward developing a presumptive screening technique to detect both Campylobacter and Salmonella in food samples.

Campylobacter infections cause 845,024 illnesses, 8,463 hospitalizations and 76 deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New federal food safety goals aimed at reducing Campylobacter by 33 percent call for the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to start testing for the bacteria.


In the USDA photo by Keith Weller, a biological technician searches a blood agar plate for typical Campylobacter colonies.

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