The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced the five finalists in its first-ever Food Safety Challenge. The contest was launched last fall to encourage academic institutions and laboratories in private and non-profit sectors to develop methods for improving and accelerating the detection of Salmonella in food. Out of the 49 submissions received, judges from FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture chose five finalists to each receive $20,000 and advance to the next stage of the challenge:
- Auburn University proposed a method which combines magnetoelastic biosensors and a surface-scanning detector used directly on food surfaces.
- Dr. Bart Weimer, University of California-Davis and Mars Inc. proposed a method that captures and concentrates Salmonella from large, complex samples using antibodies and host receptors for detection with solid phase ELISA, DNA and RNA.
- ProNucleotein Biotechnologies Corporation proposed a DNA aptamer-magnetic bead sandwich assays used to detect foodborne pathogens with a handheld fluorescence reader.
- Purdue University proposed a physical method for concentrating Salmonella to detectable levels using automated microfiltration.
- University of Illinois and Purdue University proposed a portable system for multiplexed detection of foodborne pathogens in microfluidic biochips through isothermal DNA amplification and electrical detection.
The teams are participating in a “boot camp” with FDA experts on May 13 to refine their submissions, clarify concepts, maximize their impact on food safety, align their proposals with FDA’s needs and capabilities, and ensure that the ideas can be reasonably executed. The finalists will then present their improved proposals to the judges and a live audience in FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition headquarters on July 7. The winner or winners (there can be more than one) will share the remainder of the $500,000 total prize. “I, for one, can’t wait to see the solutions the finalists will come up with,” wrote Palmer Orlandi, acting Chief Science Officer and Research Director in the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, in an agency blog post. “We believe that by thinking outside the box, we can find new ways to help assure the American public that the foods they eat and serve their families are safe.”