Bacteria Beam Cuts Factory-borne Food Poisoning

Armen Hareyan's picture

Food Poisoning Prevention

Scientists at The University of Manchester have developed a new technology which can spot contaminated meat in seconds.

The technology, which uses infrared beams to spot harmful bacteria, has the potential to revolutionise the food processing industry and prevent thousands of cases of food poisoning.

It is estimated that more than 5.5 million people in the UK, 1 in 10, suffer from food poisoning each year. Bacteria, which goes undetected in factory processed meats, such as chicken or beef, is one of the main causes.

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Professor Roy Goodacre, Dr David Ellis and a team of researchers within the School of Chemistry, have developed the technique using infrared light which successfully spots chicken and beef contaminated with dangerous bacteria, leading to the hope that it will increase the safety of processed foods across the industry.

"Modern food processing is highly automated and efficient, but the way safety inspectors sample the products has hardly changed in half a century," says Dr Ellis. "At present, more than 40 different methods are available to detect and measure bacteria growing in meats. However, even the most rapid of these takes several hours, so results are always retrospective, which means that infected meat could get into the food chain."

"We believe that our infrared equipment can be built into production lines, it doesn't involve injecting chemicals or touching the food itself, it's relatively cheap, results are available in seconds and can be read by a machine," says Dr Ellis. "This makes it ideal for on-line meat inspection."

The scientists have already shown that the technique works in both chicken and beef - which are believed to be two of the most difficult meats to check for safety. They are processed in different ways, and are typically contaminated by different types of bacteria. The method could therefore easily be applied to milk, ice-cream, cheese and other dairy produce, fruit juices and other foods.

The new technique uses infrared spectroscopy on light reflected from the surface of the food to produce biochemical 'fingerprints' of any contaminating micro-organisms, such as bacteria, and rapidly estimate their numbers.