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Researchers Develop Technologies to Devour Food Pathogens

Purdue researchers are developing two inexpensive technologies that may be able to prevent future food-borne illness//, such as the recent outbreak of E. coli in contaminated spinach.

Together, these technologies rapidly detect and eradicate food-borne pathogens.

The first method uses a laser to detect and identify many types of bacteria, and is about three times faster and one-tenth as expensive as current technology.

A second innovation uses chlorine dioxide gas to kill pathogens on produce, fresh fruits and vegetables. This would be a large step up from current technologies, which mainly involve washing and scrubbing, and cannot completely rid a product of a pathogen like E. coli, said Richard Linton, a professor of food science.

"We can use the laser technology to detect problems more quickly, determine exactly what the pathogen is and where it came from," Linton said. "As for using this gas as a disinfectant, I would say that in my 13 years of doing research, it is 10,000 to 100,000 times more effective than any process I have seen."

While different in nature, the methods have the common goal of keeping food safe and preventing people from getting sick, and have each progressed to the point where they could be commercialized, Linton said. Patents are pending on both technologies, and the laser technology is available for licensing.

Linton says there is a definite need for these new methods.

"Current technologies are insufficient to prevent food-borne illness," he said. "In the present system, once produce is contaminated with something like E. coli, that's it."

Arun Bhunia (pronounced Boon-ee-yuh), also a professor of food science, leads the team that developed the laser-based technology, called "Bacteria Rapid Detection Using Optical Scattering Technology." The process works by shining a laser though a petri dish containing bacterial colonies. A computer program dete
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