On Monday, manufacturing conglomerate 3M Company announced the release of the newest product from its food safety division: the 3M Molecular Detection System, a device designed to help food and beverage producers and laboratories detect foodborne pathogens. According to 3M officials, it should significantly reduce the amount of time and money laboratories spend analyzing food samples for pathogens.

3M’s device is the first commercial pathogen detector to combine the technologies of isothermal DNA amplification (gene analysis at a constant temperature) and bioluminescence detection (a way to measure gene expression). In short, the combo of fancy tech should make pathogen testing simpler for laboratory technicians without sacrificing accuracy, said John David, global technical services engineer for 3M Food Safety.

Once loaded with small samples of bacteria, the molecular detector can identify pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria in as little as 15 minutes, while it declares negative results after 75 minutes. By comparison, other pathogen detection systems released in recent years have boasted processing times of less than 24 hours. The detector itself takes up less desk space than the computer used to process its data, and one computer can process samples from up to four detection systems at once.

As a company known for producing everything from concrete adhesives to Post-it notes, 3M might seem like an unexpected contender to foray into the pathogen detection arena. While the company’s Petrifilm plates have long been used in the microbiology field for culturing microorganisms, the detection system is the first product of its kind to launch under the 3M’s food safety banner, a market in which they saw potential to make an impact when creating the division three years ago.

“3M saw the importance of food safety and saw trends publicly and globally that were turning attention toward food safety,” said Niki Montgomery, global marketing development manager for 3M Food Safety. “We looked at gaps in our portfolio for being a provider of food safety solutions — one was pathogens.”

Montgomery said the simplicity of 3M’s new detector will set it apart from other detection methods. With most methods, technicians have to adjust their protocols depending on the type of pathogen they’re hunting, but 3M’s device handles all samples the same.

“Customers truly have the ability to do batch processing,” she told Food Safety News. “When they can run all the different pathogens and all different samples, there’s less chance for human error. Protocols need to be followed for all systems to work — the one we offer is just a very simple one to follow.”

The detector has been tested — and is already being used — by government and academic labs and food processing facilities around the world looking for pathogens in everything from dairy and meat to produce and spices.

Image of Molecular Detection System equipment courtesy 3M:

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