Canada is backing a CAD $600,000 project to map the genome of Listeria and develop faster testing methods that will allow the industry to respond more quickly to food safety investigations.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), not-for-profit Genome Canada and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions are teaming-up for a project, which plans to half existing testing times for the L. monocytogenes bacterium.
The 18-month research initiative includes funding from CAD $250,000 (US $249,600) from both Genome Canada and CFIA, and CAD $100,000 from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions.
The partners aim to map the genome of Listeria bacteria, allowing for a diagnostic test with immediate results, as opposed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods, which take from 3-5 days.
Serious industry concern
In a joint press release, the venture partners noted that Listeriosis was a serious food industry concern, especially for the elderly, pregnant or children.
In general, Listeria monocytogenes appeared capable of survival regardless of freezing, dehydration and pasteurization, they noted.
"Given the seriousness of this bacterium as a food pathogen, its timely detection in food will help reduce the incidence of foodbourne listeriosis," the partners said.
Jacques Guerette, a spokesman for GenomeCanada, told FoodProductionDaily.com. “Current methods are measured in days. The hope is to cut this by half.”
Pierre Meulien, president and CEO of Genome Canada said faster tests would allow both industry and regulators to respond more swiftly to safety investigations, by identifying food contaminants as quickly as possible and preventing or limit the impact of outbreaks.
Cost benefits for food firms?
Marie Cusack from Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions said the new testing method involved swabbing areas to be tested for dangerous bacteria, then extracting their DNA. Next generation DNA sequencers then determine the relevant genetic sequence.
“Computer programs will be used to make sense of the sequence information by comparing this information to information that is available in existing databases,” she told FoodProductionDaily.com.
“The sequence information should indicate whether Listeriosis was in the swabbed sample and if so whether it is a harmful or harmless strain of Listeriosis.”
Cusack said the genomics technology will complement but not replace testing methods, but declined to put a figure on any cost benefits for food manufacturers.
“Current technologies have difficulty distinguishing between dangerous and non-dangerous strains of Listeriosis, but whole genome sequencing will be able to make this distinction,” she said.
The project leaders are now offering funding for research participants. Cusack said applicants would work with companies and food safety agencies to incorporate the research into current practices.