Really? Rapid test for E. coli improves food safety

Scientists are always talking about new rapid tests for pathogens, but I don’t see them in grocery stores – that’s a place where people buy food.

scienceBut, here goes the PR from Western (in Canada).

Dr. Michael Rieder and his team have created a new rapid-test system to detect E. coli O157 – a foodborne bacteria most commonly found in ground meat. The test would allow manufacturers to identify contaminated food quickly before it leaves the processing plant and enters the grocery store. The system was developed as a result of collaborations between Dr. Rieder, associate scientist at Robarts, and London entrepreneurs, Michael Brock and Craig Coombe.

Current conventional testing can take from three to 21 days for definitive results and relies on bacterial culture. By the time the bacteria are identified, the food has been shipped to grocery stores and may have already caused illness. With this current system, two weeks of food may need to be recalled to ensure against cross-contamination.

 Dr. Rieder’s rapid-test system would allow food to be sampled at the end of one day, and the results would be available before the food is shipped the next morning. “This means that one day’s production is lost, not five day’s production,” he said. “This has the potential to save companies considerable money, and more importantly could save a lot of people from being exposed to food-borne disease.”

  The rapid-test relies on targeting proteins identified by Dr. Rieder’s lab that are only present in the organisms that cause people to become ill. By collaborating with Toronto-based company International Point of Care, the team was able to use flow-through technology to mark the protein with colloidal gold so that it is visible to the naked eye. The process is similar to that used in pregnancy tests – one line for negative, two lines for positive.

 Much of the work has been funded through a grant from Mitacs, a provincial program that encourages academic and industrial collaboration. Dr. Rieder credits the success of the project to these collaborations with industry, as well as colleagues at Robarts and Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Sadly, Michael Brock, a key member of the project, died suddenly just as it was entering its final stages.

 The rapid-test system has completed testing at Robarts and the Health Canada-certified Agriculture and Food Laboratory at the University of Guelph. The final application has been submitted to Health Canada for approval.

If these people are experts, what’s a consumer to do?

I cringe every time I’m called an expert.

I know a little bit about how to coach girl’s hockey, I know how to make graduate students cry, I know a few other things involving chocolate. I’m amazed at what I don’t know about food and food safety.

But we’re all experts cause we all eat.

The Boston Globe asked some alleged experts about their food concerns.

Dr. Anita Barry of Hingham, director of the infectious disease bureau for the Boston Public Health Commission, says she focuses on washing all produce and she only uses plastic-made cutting boards because wooden ones can have germ-trapped cracks.

Washing produce removes little in the way of pathogens – has to be minimized on the farm – and wooden cutting boards are fine.

Zach Conrad of Brighton, a former co-odinator at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety in Washington, D.C., believes that today’s organic farmers take greater care around sanitation and safety issues.

Sorry Zach, absolutely no evidence for that.

Lilian Schaer has a unique theory on why there is an E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with a Harvey’s restaurant in North Bay, Ontario.

“At Harvey’s, frozen beef patties are grilled once you place your order – and there is plenty of room for error in that process, especially if the restaurant is busy, there isn’t enough staff, or staff aren’t trained or supervised properly.”

So why aren’t there other outbreaks at Harvey’s across Canada? Lilian also says farmers are great and bad handling is where things go wrong. Today she called E. coli O157:H7 a virus. Lilian is a communications specialist, apparently trained at Guelph.

Gina Mallet reacted to the Michael Schmidt raw milk conviction today by saying

“Michael Schmidt’s raw milk has never been found to have listeria or e coli, none of his customers have turned up in intensive care.  People who buy raw milk know there’s an outside risk of a pathogen in unpasteurized milk.

"But no one who ate the listeria laced deli meat and now, the  e-coli burgers from a North Bay Wendy’s knew they were dicing with death when they ate processed and fast food. … Fact is, and the government knows it, that the dirty human hand is a greater danger to our food than not pasteurizing milk.”

It’s a Harvey’s in North Bay. And Gina, you don’t know if Schmidt’s milk has made someone sick or not. It’s OK to say, I don’t know. The dirty hand? Sure, but I follow the poop, some of which is on the hand, some elsewhere.