In the UK, Alaska Food Diagnostics, a joint venture between Circus Capital and DSTL, is using Ministry of Defence technology to develop a rapid test for harmful bacteria in food.
According to a report in the Financial Times, the "AK Phage" technology had previously been used in the Gulf war to detect signs of biological warfare. However, now the technology is being put to use in more peaceable means as a way of rapidly detecting common bacteria in a range of food products.
The technology takes three to eight hours to test for E. coli, salmonella and listeria, using a small piece of on-site equipment developed by the research team. Conventional methods require samples to be sent away to a laboratory for three to seven days.
"For the same price, you can now do the test in a matter of hours rather than days," said Harvey Boulter of Circus.
The technology could revolutionise the €1billion a year food hygiene industry. For the first time, products such as milk could be tested before being taken to supermarket shelves. This means that testing could even be carried out by the retailers, in-store.
Alaska's chief executive, Malcolm Walpole, said the UK's Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) and several multinationals have expressed interest in the technology.
The company is now working on adapting the test to a wide variety of food types as well as trying to develop the equipment itself. Circus's other partnerships with the Ministry of Defence include an unobtrusive, 15-minute test for BSE (mad cow disease).
The test, originally developed to detect ailments such as Gulf war syndrome, analyses a live animal's brainwaves using a handheld device. Currently, animals can be tested for BSE only in a laboratory, after being slaughtered.