With the demand for organic produce greater than ever, the largest challenge the industry faces is having enough supply to meet demand. And as consumers becoming more concerned about how safe and healthy their food is, it is imperative modern food safety practices are in place up and down the supply chain to ensure that the demands of the organic produce shopper are met.
An essential step in getting product from “farm to fork” is the testing for dangerous pathogens that cause foodborne illness. Unfortunately, laboratory testing for microbes such as E. coli and Listeria is a lengthy process, providing results in three or more days. To avoid a shortened shelf life, produce is packed, shipped, processed and even stocked with retailers before test results can confirm its safety. If contamination is indicated, it can cause costly recalls, potential contamination outbreaks, as well as the possibility of consumer illnesses and hospitalizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year, “roughly one in six Americans gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from foodborne diseases.” As a result, research is continually developing new technologies to prevent outbreaks. Subsequently, there is a need for an innovative technology that can quickly track harmful microbes in fresh produce.
One company strives to meet this need – Proteo Sense, founded in 2013 and supported by the Ohio State University. Their system, RapidScan, is a hand-held device that offers immediate, accurate test results for foodborne pathogens. Rather than taking days for pathogen results, with companies risking tainted produce reaching consumers, contamination can be detected in minutes throughout all points in the industry’s network.
Mark Byrne, President and CEO of ProteoSense, said his company’s “goal is to provide producers and processors throughout the supply chain with a simple, easy to use tool that provides data much faster than any other method, enabling real-time management of products and processes.”
Currently, RapidScan is in the prototype development stage. After extensive laboratory work, the first available test will be for listeria in environmental samples, followed by rapid tests for other pathogens, such as E.coli, salmonella and campylobacter. RapidScan can test samples from a variety of sources, including agricultural water, soil amendment, even tools and equipment.
“While listeria typically produces a qualitative response,” Byrne said, “as we move to other pathogens in food, water and soil amendments we will provide quantitative results.”
ProteoSense plans to have beta prototypes ready for evaluation in 2018, then widespread availability with a competitive pricing model in 2019. They will submit RapidScan for verification with the Association of Official Agricultural Chemists (AOAC), and anticipate that their device will become a recognized and integral part of the produce industry’s preventative safety controls.
The RapidScan technology is much faster than current testing options, and the portable system is durable enough for use in the field by non-technical operators. It also could be incorporated into the packing, processing, shipping and retail sectors of the food industry. If successful, this unique platform for testing hazardous contaminants has the potential to detect problems at the front end, reducing expensive food recalls. This is a huge breakthrough in the food industry,” said Gina Kramer, Executive Director of Savour Food Safety International, Inc. “RapidScan will allow both large scale and small farmers to reduce waste, increase freshness & shelf-life and avoid multiple expensive recalls.”
RapidScan’s innovative testing method has the potential to reduce the number of foodborne illness outbreaks, provide an increased well-being for consumers, and serve as an advantage to the organic fresh produce industry.