New sensor bolsters defense against foodborne bacteriaScientists in the UK are using research from the University of Southampton to develop a new sensor to sample and detect harmful bacteria on food industry surfaces.

Known as the Biolisme project, the sensor is capable of collecting and detecting Listeria monocytogenes on food industry surfaces. The technology will be another tool for manufacturers that can use the sensor as an additional line of defense in preventing contaminated food from entering the market.

Beginning in 2009, the project was name Biolisme, an acronym for “speedy system for sampling and detecting Listeria monocytogenes in agri-food and related European industries.”

Funded by the European Commission under the Framework Program for Research, the project involves seven partners from five European countries who bring expertise in food, microbiology, biosensors, electro-optics and cleaning.

According to the researchers, current techniques to detect the bacteria can take up to days, whereas the new sensor aims to detect the bacteria in less than four hours.

University representatives said Listeria monocytogenes has the highest hospitalization and death percentage among all foodborne pathogens.

Researchers designed the sensor to sample single cells and biofilms—groups of microorganisms where cells stick together on surfaces. Compressed air and water is used to remove the cells before they are introduced to an antibody. If Listeria monocytogenes is present, the cells react with the antibody to produce a fluorescent signal, which is detected by a special camera.

“We researched biofilms under different stresses to find the optimum pressure to remove cells from different surfaces, without disrupting the cells themselves,” says Dr. Salome Gião, who is beginning to test the sensor. “We also found that biofilms can form on surfaces even if they are covered in tap water.”

The prototype sensor was finished in France and field trials are currently underway.

Biolisme II was approved after the success of the first project in order to validate the findings and begin commercialization of the device.

“The scientific research we have carried out at the University of Southampton has been used by our Biolisme project partners to develop a device which will have major implications for the food industry,” says Gião. “By making the process simpler we hope that testing will be conducted more frequently, thereby reducing the chance of infected food having to be recalled or making its way to the consumer.”