Liquid crystals, the same technology that illuminates household flat-screen televisions and computer monitors, are now being used to improve how food producers test for food-borne pathogens in meat and produce sent to retailers.
Crystal Diagnostics, a Broomfield, Colo.-based technology start-up, introduced the new MultiPath tester, which detects E. coli O157:H7, salmonella and listeria in a single test. While current pathogen tests can take days to identify just one contaminant, the MultiPath uses liquid crystal technology developed at Kent State University and the Northeast Ohio Medical University to present results in 30 minutes or less.
"This will give producers tremendous flexibility, efficiency, cost savings and, because it's highly accurate, assurance that they're not getting a false positive—meaning when a device detects a pathogen that isn’t actually there," said Paul Repetto, CEO of Crystal Diagnostics.
As food safety becomes increasingly important to grocery shoppers, devices like the MultiPath tester could prove indispensible for produce and meat suppliers and ultimately retailers. A recent survey conducted by Deloitte, a New York–based accounting and consulting firm, found that 73 percent of respondents are more concerned about the food they eat than they were five years ago. Incidents such as the most recent listeria outbreak in cantaloupe, in which 13 people died and another 72 fell ill, have encouraged Repetto and his team to make the technology available as soon as possible.
The test has been in development for five years “while we figured out how to take this complicated technology and made it simple to use," Repetto said. "The science worked from day one, but it took several PhDs to use it. It was long way from the beginnings to the very simple and elegant device we have today." The company is now beta-testing and receiving feedback on the equipment from undisclosed food-processing companies and testing labs that are potential customers. Repetto expects the MultiPath to be on the market as early as summer 2012.