When you need results yesterday

In Featured Posts, Front page by Prof8 Comments

In just about every manufacturing industry, whether the products are cars, phones, or foods, it is absolutely essential that finished products meet quality expectations and safety requirements.  However, for food, there is another critical requirement – namely, the methods used to validate safety must also be rapid.  This is because most foods are perishable and have limited shelf-life.  If a microbiological analysis takes five days for an answer before the product can be shipped to retailers, that’s five days of lost shelf-life.  Thus, rapid tests that can deliver an answer in a day or less are now widely used.

Note that accuracy and sensitivity cannot be sacrificed for speed.  A false negative result (e.g., when the product tests negative for the presence of a pathogen, but the pathogen is actually present) can be disastrous.  Likewise, a false positive (e.g., the product tests positive, but it’s really negative) can also be costly.

Most rapid methods, as some of you will learn in the Food Microbiology course, are based on molecular or immunological principles.  However, the actual tests are not very complicated, and many are as simple as a home pregnancy test.  Others are a bit more technical, but can still be performed by lab techs.

Although Petri plates and test tubes are not going away tomorrow, the day is not too far away when one will simply spot a portion of food on a test strip and an accurate and reliable result will be observable in a minute or two.  In fact, for some applications that day is already here.  Eventually, I predict there will be smart phone apps that do the same.

Image from neogen.com


  1. It will be very interesting to see the kinds of technology created in the next decade or so; such changes will likely alter the entire food industry. These technologies could better help protect consumers against food borne illnesses.

  2. Advancing technologies can be so great – we can’t function at the levels we do without technology – but sometimes it can completely be a pain. When glitches occur on my iPhone it can take weeks to have an update to come out that fixes it. I wonder if that will be the same with technology in the field, will it take forever to get a glitch fixed when it occurs?

  3. Technology is rapidly changing the way things get done across industries and it helps make labor way less intensive. I am always eager to see how technology can change to support science in providing rapid tests with very precise and accurate results in the future.

  4. The speed of these tests are awesome, and I definitely hope they find a way to make them accurate every time so that there isn’t much delay in the process. I wonder though, if there will be a demand among consumers who want to test their own food for pathogens, since there is already a distrust in some food companies, and how this will affect the consumer’s view of the company.

  5. I think the most important goal we should take from this issue is safety. Its obviously important to get food on the shelves fast and efficiently, but it is much more important to have safe food to eat rather than having to waste a few batches here and there if a test took too long. There is plenty of food out there to supply to grocery stores and markets, i hope the required precautions are being taken with nothing but consumer safety in mind.

  6. Advances in food safety are becoming more and more necessary. As our populace becomes more immunocompromised and more brain-washed by insufficient or false reporting, they also become more susceptible to blaming the food industry for things that they cannot always control. No matter the time frame, food safety should be made a priority.

  7. I am not surprised that the techniques we use for food testing are speeding up. That is how everything else is in today’s world, and I think it’s for the best. Not only is it saving time and money for the producers, but it’s allowing the consumers to get products quicker and cheaper as well.

  8. Compared with the concept of food detection and food detection of traditional, modern food detection has great progress in the detection,not only to detect whether a food containing toxic substances, but also to the chemical composition, food nutrients, microbial species, fungi, microbial properties,and the techniques will be developped in the next decade.

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