Scientists who claim to have developed what they say is the fastest food detector of its kind have received funding to mass produce their discovery.
Scotland's Macaulay Institute said this week the scientists plan to roll out technology by 2010 that will cut detection times for food pathogens such as Campylobacter, Listeria and Salmonella to five hours from six days.
Cutting pathogen detection time is one of the holy grails of food microbiology. Brining down detection times to hours can help managers prevent contaminated foods from reaching consumers.
Brajesh Singh, who leads the project at the Institue, said the new technology could prevent many food poisoning outbreaks.
"The conventional methods for detecting food contamination used by industries and regulatory agencies are labour intensive, time consuming and costly," he stated.
"Our proposed technology offers for the first time, at low cost, the simultaneous detection of multiple contaminants within five to eight hours, and has the potential to revolutionise the food safety industry and save lives through prevention of food poisoning epidemics."
Seeded with £246,000 from the Scottish Enterprise's 'Proof of Concept' programme, the scientists aim is sell the detection kit worldwide by 2010 via a spin-out company.
The new company will also provide food sample analyse services and develop other similar technologies.
The test kit works by analysing a food sample for specific food pathogens, the Macaulay Institute stated.
The kit can be used to detect multiple microbial contaminants in food, water and environmental samples.
"This unique method allows dual detection of pathogens and determines if they are capable of producing toxins or whether they have antibiotic resistance," the Institute added. "It offers improved diagnostic potential to identify the source of contamination and therefore save lives."
Singh stated that the device is sensitive enough to accurately determine the level of contamination - which is a limitation of present methodologies.
"We believe that this technology provides a real opportunity to make Scotland a world-leader in microbial diagnostics and industrial microbiology," he stated.
While the new company will initially focus on contaminant detection in food and the environment, the kit has wider applications and will be attractive to healthcare, forensic and remediation industries, he noted.
"The project will allow Scotland to compete with North America and Continental Europe in this growing market, which estimates suggest will be worth US$2.4 billion by 2010 for the food sector alone," he stated.
The scientists will used the funding to develop a proof of concept, then once the technology is adjusted it will be licensed to a range of industries or service providers in microbial diagnostics.
The detection technology will also be marketed through a spin-off company that will manufacture the necessary kits and create a service centre for the UK.
The project also involves Colin Campbell and Fiona Moore of the Macaulay Institute, and Iain Ogden from the University of Aberdeen.