Tens of millions of cases of food-borne and beverage-borne illnesses occur in the United States every year with an estimated cost to the economy of 1-10 billion dollars. The emergence of new pathogenic strains, such as E. coli 0157:H7, seem to have a particularly disastrous effect on young children. In the Pacific Northwest in 1993 over 700 people were sickened from undercooked ground beef, 55 that developed hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), and four died. The overall goal of this program is to develop a rapid pathogen detection system with single cell detection sensitivity and assay times of less than a few hours. Assay specificity will be achieved through the use of commercially available pathogen specific antibodies to cell surface antigens. Single cell assay sensitivity will be achieved by a novel electronic imaging of samples collected on filter media that have been reacted with an enzyme labeled specific antibody. By including a short growth step, viable cells can be distinguished from pathogens killed by the food preparation process. Assay protocols designed to detect E. coil and Salmonella will be developed in Phase I and expanded to include E. coli 0157:H7, Cryptosporidium, Listeria, Campylobacter, and Yersina in Phase II.
Current AOAC standard culture methods for food pathogen detection require between five and ten days. Meanwhile the product is held for shipment which increases storage costs and decrease shelf-life. More rapid systems can save the food industry many millions of dollars and greatly improve the safety and quality of our food supply.