The biosensor is expected to concentrate pathogens that could help eliminate the need to grow the bacteria, which can take eight to 30 hours.
It would improve current detection methods involving heavy equipment, tubing and reagents, because of its portability and simplicity in a field environment, said the researchers.
They added the food inspection tool will reduce the danger soldiers face from contaminated food.
Food safety teamwork
Scientists from the food protection team and macromolecular sciences and engineering team at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) are working with the FDA, Winchester Engineering and Analytical Center, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Biosensors are made up of a biological component, such as an antibody or DNA that can capture, detect and record information about a measurable physical change in the biosensor system.
When bacteria are present on the device it impedes the flow of electricity from one side to the other side, said the researchers.
This change in the electrical connection tells the user that the sensor has encountered a dangerous food pathogen.
One of the scientists, Kris Senecal, is working to put conductive polymers on nanofibers, which she said work better at detection than a flat surface.
"Nanofibers are one-billionth of a meter and nanomaterials are cheap, one-use, and super lightweight," said Senecal.
"Nanofibers may be used for food safety. Antibodies can be added to the nanofibers, which have a lot of surface area to which you can add antibodies that can catch single-cell bacteria, and other pathogens.
“The sensor will provide protection from E.coli, Listeria, general food threats, and Salmonella."
The work received a 2013 US Food and Drug Administration leveraging and collaboration award.
"Military operations at some overseas locations where food is procured locally and food safety laws are lenient, are especially problematic,” said Andre Senecal, one of the researchers.
“Soldiers can lose a lot of time from work because they get sick from pathogens present in water and food.
"We are starting our work with E.coli 0157:H7, but the goal is to look at all microbial pathogens and toxins that they produce."