Joining Forces For Food Safety | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 21, 2012

Joining Forces For Food Safety

Instrumentation: Agilent and FDA team up to improve methods for pathogen detection, seafood identification
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: food safety, FDA, Agilent Technologies, mass spectrometry
FDA inspectors hope to gain a technology edge in detecting mislabeled seafood from a collaboration with Agilent Technologies.
Credit: FDA
Photo shows FDA field inspectors checking shipments of imported seafood at the Los Angeles International Airport.
FDA inspectors hope to gain a technology edge in detecting mislabeled seafood from a collaboration with Agilent Technologies.
Credit: FDA

Instrumentation company Agilent Technologies is partnering with the Food & Drug Administration to develop mass-spectrometry-based methods for identifying subtypes of salmonella bacteria in food. The joint effort, announced on March 19, also aims to improve Agilent’s DNA-based lab-on-a-chip analyzer for verifying whether seafood is accurately labeled.

When outbreaks of foodborne illness occur, knowing the subtype of the pathogen can help pinpoint the source of the contamination. “Techniques that are used currently for tracking the origin of bacteria during a foodborne outbreak take too long,” says Paul Zavitsanos, head of Agilent’s global food safety program. “There has been a furious effort over the past five years to try and discover new technologies that will shorten that time frame. This effort is part of that endeavor,” he tells C&EN.

Current methods for identifying salmonella subtypes take several days. The partnership aims to develop MS-based methods that take less than a day, Zavitsanos says. MS also offers the ability to obtain multiple genotypes at the same time, says Steve Royce, manager of Agilent’s food safety program in North America.

“We expect this collaboration will be an important step in the development of new and specific tools for tracking bacterial pathogens in foods,” Eric W. Brown, director of FDA’s division of microbiology, said in a statement.

Under the agreement, Agilent will also work with both FDA and the Campden BRI laboratory in England to develop technology to identify fish and seafood species. The goal is to make the Agilent Bioanalyzer rapid, affordable, and simple enough to be used routinely to detect intentional mislabeling of seafood products and economic fraud in cases where a less expensive species is substituted for a more expensive one.

The Agilent Bioanalyzer is a lab-on-a chip device that relies on polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length polymorphism. It is capable of identifying species even after the fish is processed. “Whenever the sample contains processed fish, where there might have been some damage to DNA or when you have mixtures of fish, this becomes a very compelling approach,” Royce says. “There really are no other approaches currently that allow for identification of fish species within a complex matrix or a mixture of fishes,” he notes.

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