The day may not be too far off when consumers and food manufacturers will be able to detect the presence of E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella by visual changes in a polymer-based “smart label” now being developed by engineering professors at the University of Alberta. Members of the six-person research team still need to do more testing, get government approvals and move on from the lab to product manufacturing. However, the technology appears to hold promise for enhancing food safety both in the factory and in grocery stores. “To the naked eye, it looks very much like a normal plastic material,” Dr. Dominic Sauvageau, a chemical engineer and researcher in biotechnology, recently told the Edmonton Journal. “The idea is to have a material that’s easy to make, that is cheap, that can give us a visual or measurable response when a pathogen is present.” The “smart labels” turn from blue to white or become cloudy if E. coli, Listeria or Salmonella bacteria are present on the food product being checked. Sauvageau and his team of researchers got $220,000 from the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, which is concerned about the safety of the province’s huge cattle industry. There’s still another year to go in the team’s three-year project. Alberta has witnessed a rash of foodborne illness outbreaks and recalls in the recent past, with the latest being an E. coli one potentially related to recalled pork products, another E. coli outbreak in August linked to bean sprouts, and a Salmonella one in June linked to sprouted chia seeds. And, in 2012, an E. coli outbreak linked to an Alberta beef processing plant resulted in sickening 18 people and prompting what became the largest beef recall in Canada’s history at 8 million pounds.