Home test kit for E. coli and Salmonella?

Magna Medical Services (MMS) is pumping out the press releases following high profile outbreaks.  These dudes have been around for a while, and usually after every outbreak they fire out something about testing your food with their high-powered testing.  Today’s says:

With the recent string of food recalls, food and health retailers are scrambling to offer instant food testing kits for E.coli and Salmonella manufactured by Magna Medical Services, Inc. MMS Quick Results Food Testing Kits are home food test kits for E.coli and Salmonella.
“Retailers will be able to sell home kits for E.coli and Salmonella to clients that need to quickly check their food areas and food products for possible bacteria outbreaks,” says Robert Greene, General Manager for Magna Medical Services, Inc “This is a product that should be right next to every home first aid kit.

They also put out releases following the 2006 spinach-linked E. coli O157:H7 outbreak, and another that cites "recent E. coli outbreaks that have affected the Northeastern United States" back in January.  Seem to be capitalizing on public interest in food safety, but I have lots of questions about the product.

Does this product even work (and how would we know)?
Where is the data (because it’s not on their website)?
How sensitive is it? 
What’s the utility of using quick strips on food in your home? 
How do you sample food in your house?
What would happen if a firm,or a temporary food stand, or my mom used these strips, the results showed no contamination, and the food still resulted in an outbreak?

Maybe it’s a good tool, but without some of these questions answered I file MMS into the huckster category, capitalizing on food safety hysteria. Maybe MMS have some good answers, and I welcome any comments on this product here on barfblog.

Some of my food microbiologist friends are struggling with figuring out the best way to use traditional, labour-intensive methods of sampling different foods (especially produce) and there are disagreements on sample preparation. Seems MMS has got it all figured out.  And only for "less than $4 USD"

I think what MMS is trying to sell is a magic bullet — test with our strips and you can be sure about your food.  And without the data, I’m not sure they can say that, I don’t believe that there are magic bullets in food safety, it’s not that simple.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is a professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.