A new rapid testing kit developed by researchers at Western University on London, Ont. could have detected E. coli in romaine lettuce long before shipments hit grocery shelves.
The Western-developed kit detects a protein unique to the E. coli 0157 bacteria and can show results in under 24 hours. That's the same strain of bacteria causing the current outbreak in the United States and Canada.
Current testing relies on cultures being taken from potentially contaminated samples and being sent away for testing, with results being up to two weeks to come back.
By that time, the food has often been shipped to market.
'Faster and cheap'
"Our goal is to get the test to occur as close to possible," said Dr. Michael Rieder, Professor at Western's Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and scientist at Robarts Research Institute.
"This technology is not only faster, but it's less expensive, it's easy to use, and it can be right in the processing plant."
The Western University has been approved by Health Canada and is now being sent to food processing plants in North America.
"We are looking at this specific bio-marker because it is unique to this pathogenic bacteria. The presence of bacteria itself is not bad, but we want to be able to identify specific bacteria that cause people to get sick," Rieder said .
"The goal is a safe food chain for everyone so that public safety can be assured."
Much of the work to develop the kit was funded through a grant from Mitacs, a federal non-profit agency that encourages academic and industrial collaboration.
Western researchers worked with a Toronto-based biomedical company and London entrepreneurs Craig Combe and Michael Brock to develop the kit.