E. Coli testing

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Meat recalls can be costly for producers and deadly for consumers. But a device created in London, Ontario could change that.

Scientists have developed a test that detects e-coli 4 times faster than current methods, which could save lives and millions of dollars.

Meat processing plants routinely test their product for bacteria including e.coli. But by the time those results come in, the meat is already on grocery store shelves, or in your fridge at home.

“In the meantime, if you’re a supplier of food, you don’t let your food sit around for 3-4 days, you ship it.” said Dr. Michael Rieder, a scientist at Western University

If harmful bacteria is found after the 4 days it takes to complete conventional testing, the company has to recall millions of dollars in product and it may have already sickened consumers.

Every year over 400 Canadians get sick eating food contaminated with e.coli.

Scientists at Western University believe this little device could change that.

“So the cassettes look like this and if it looks like a pregnancy test, that’s because it basically is a pregnancy test.” said Rieder. It tests for e.coli, the same strain that killed 7 people in Walkerton. A sample of meat is first mixed with an enriching solution. The mixture is then processed for 8 hours in a machine called the “stomacher”.

A small drop of that mixture is placed on the cassette and within 15 minutes, you have a result. 1 line means negative, 2 means positive. The entire process takes less than 10 hours.

“It means the exposure to consumers to potentially contaminated food has shrunk from 4 days to maybe half a day. And it means that the company doesn’t have to worry about recalling 4 days of production.” said Rieder.

The testing kits are expected to cost about one fifth as much as conventional lab testing. They’re awaiting approval by Health Canada and could be on the market by the end of 2015.