A new method of testing food for Salmonella contamination using recombinant bacteriophage proteins is both faster and can be applied to larger food samples, says its French manufacturer.
It is the second phage-technology test for food contamination introduced recently by the French company, bioMérieux. It earlier rolled out its VIDAS E. coli O157 phage technology test for detection of Escherichia coli, including the H7 strain.
A third in this series — a Listeria test — is planned for release during the fourth quarter of this year.
A familiar figure in the U.S. food safety community is helping bioMérieux guide the new tests to market. J. Stan Bailey, who spent one career as a top scientist with USDA’s Agriculture Research Service, is now director of scientific affairs for bioMérieux.
Bailey, who was also recently president of the International Association for Food Protection, spent 35 years as one of the world’s leading Salmonella researchers. Like many others who’ve taken on the bacterium, Bailey often thinks of it as a single entity that fights back whenever modern science takes some action against it.
“I’ve often said that Salmonella was here long before we were, and it’s likely to be here long after we are gone,” Bailey told Food Safety News.
Salmonella causes one of the world’s most common intestinal infections called salmonellosis. There are many different strains around the globe, some specific to particular continents.
That Salmonella is such a robust organism that thrives under various conditions is what makes the pathogen so perplexing. “I have a lot of respect for Salmonella,” Bailey says.
He says the new Salmonella test is a “game-changer” in that it will minimize the time and complexity for testing, which will mean less food contaminated with Salmonella reaching the consumer.
And at a time when food industry margins are tight and government budgets are being squeezed, the speed and utility of the new test should make its use cost-effective for both public and private labs, Bailey said.
A simpler, faster test makes it more likely that companies producing Salmonella-prone food lots — everything from poultry to produce to nuts — will employ “test and hold” strategies.
The new bioMérieux test can return results in as little as 19 hours, according to Bailey, compared with existing reference methods that take as long as three days. Bailey thinks the food industry, ever conscious of its holding, storing, and shipping costs, will consider the faster and easier test a good option.
He declined to be specific about costs because those are not in his bailiwick at bioMérieux, but he did say their tests are cost-competitive and “will save money in the long run.”
Bailey says another key element of the new Salmonella test is that it can used on a larger sample of food, which if done in a systematic way has district advantages.
The phage protein technology is able to detect even low levels of contamination.
Knocking down the number of salmonellosis cases from foodborne Salmonella contamination is clearly one of the food industry’s top challenges. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently said the number of such illnesses was up 10 percent over 10 years ago.
Bailey said salmonellosis is a “horrible illness” that actually is undercounted because people who become ill often tough it out at home without going to a physician.
And doctors often do not order clinical tests for someone who is recovering. (The VIDAS® SPT is used to test food, it is not a clinical test for humans.)
Bailey says he enjoyed his entire career with USDA, but is finding the opportunity to be involved with different things at bioMérieux to be “very invigorating.”
bioMérieux, a world leader in the field of vitro diagnostics, is based in Marcy l ‘Etoile, France.
Asked about the deadly epidemic caused by E. coli O104:H4 in Europe, Bailey said that, too, is a “game-changer.”
Bailey says it is probably true that outbreak surveillance is better in the U.S. than in Europe, but quickly adds that nobody could have gotten on top of this particular pathogen any faster.
He says the apparent virulence factor of E. coli O104:H4 alone is going to present the world health community with many challenges. Bailey also predicts researchers may need to shift focus to specific toxins rather than organisms.