Food safety technology is going down that familiar path of making things smaller and quicker.

The latest example is found at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where a team led by Chemistry Professor John Brennan has come up with a “dipstick” to test for small amounts of pesticides in food and beverages.

A report on the team’s work was published in the Nov. 1 issue of Analytical Chemistry, a journal published by the American Chemical Society. 

The McMaster University team has developed a quick test for toxic pesticides in foods and plans to make similar paper-strip tests available for foodborne bacteria like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.

Brennan does not see any need for the pesticides dipstick for domestic food, but the 10-centimeter-long strips might be useful for checking on food from Asia or Africa.  The test strips might be useful to the military in checking for chemical warfare agents.

Another use for the test strips, which anybody can use, might be inside food manufacturing plants.  “So another place we might see this is someplace like Maple Leaf Foods,” Brennan says.

Listeria went un-detected in the meat cutters in the Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto last year, and led to an outbreak across Canada that resulted in the deaths of 22 mostly elderly Canadians.

The strips now can test for pesticides in minutes, rather than hours.  Dip stick tests for E. coli in water or for molds on feed grains are among the other applications the Brennan team might develop in the future.

In other science news of note, the fast-grow atmosphere of space has helped advance some research that may lead to such advancements as vaccines for foodborne illnesses.

However, Houston, there is a problem.   Space travel weakens the immune systems of astronauts while contributing to the growth of nasty bacteria.

A joint review by Nancy University in France and the University of Luxembourg of 150 studies on the issue dating back to Apollo suggests more work is needed before we step off to Mars.