Researchers at Purdue University are developing two technologies aimed at preventing future food-borne illness: one method to find harmful bacteria, another to eradicate it.
One method detects and identifies many types of bacteria using a laser. Not only is this technology three times faster as the technology currently being used for this purpose, but it is also one-tenth as expensive.
The other innovation kills pathogens on fresh produce using chlorine dioxide gas. Current technologies mainly involve physically washing the fruit or vegetables, a much less dependable and consistent method.
"We can use the laser technology to detect problems more quickly, determine exactly what the pathogen is and where it came from," says Richard Linton, professor of food science."As for using this gas as a disinfectant, I would say that in my 13 years of doing research, it is 10,000 to 100,000 times more effective than any process I have seen."
The laser detection method works by shining a laser through bacterial colonies in a petri dish. By analyzing how light is refracted in the colonies, a computer program identifies what type of bacteria is being examined. "This is a really exciting technology. I definitely believe it could help save lives, which is our ultimate goal," says Arun Hunia, professor of food science and leader of the laser project.
Linton and fellow professor of food science lead the chlorine dioxide work. Their greatest remaining challenge in developing the technology is to balance the amount of gas used so that it kills pathogens without decreasing product quality.
The technologies are both being developed out of the public and industry need for better food-borne illness prevention, and industry has shown interest.
"We are always thinking in terms of, "Will this work for industry?'" says Linton. "In this case, I believe the answer is yes. I would like to see this technology used regularly by industry in a couple years from now."