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New nanotechnology could help detect foodborne illness

By Hilary Oliver

A new nanotechnology sensor for detecting salmonella could help boost food safety, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers. Bosson Park, lead researcher with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, said the miniscule biosensors include fluorescent dye particles attached to salmonella antibodies, so when the antibodies latch onto salmonella bacteria, the dye lights up, making the bacteria easier to see, according to

Park explained that the sensor could be adapted to detect other foodborne illnesses, too. But he said the technology, which was developed with the help of researchers at the University of Georgia, isn't expected to appear in food applications for consumption any time soon because researchers are still working on applying the concept to a real food matrix.

One of the researchers' recent articles on the USDA website says, "Food nanotechnology as a new technology is requiring reviews of potentially adverse effects as well as many positive effects."

George Kimbrell, staff attorney at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety agreed with the need for caution. "It could be something that's potentially useful," he said, though he explained he would be hesitant to support anything that would be consumed. "[Nanoparticles] are so active."

Kimbrell also expressed concern that the new technology would only work as a Band-Aid for problems posed by industrial agriculture. Instead of offering front-end solutions to food safety issues, technologies such as this nano sensor function as invasive defenses.

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