USDA Highlights New Technology for Spotting Food Toxins

USDA Agricultural Research Service Reuven Rasooly and his colleagues have demonstrated the system is as effective in measuring Shiga toxin activity as a fluorometer.

Reuven Rasooly, a chemist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif., has developed a simple, inexpensive system for detecting Shiga toxin, which is a product of pathogenic Escherichia coli O157:H7 and causes some 73,000 cases of food poisoning and more than 60 deaths in the United States each year, Sandra Avant, ARS public affairs specialist, reported July 12 in a post on the USDA blog.

She explained that the system uses a camera and a light-emitting source to detect active toxins, while currently used tests can't distinguish between active and inactive forms of Shiga toxin. "We need devices that are affordable and sensitive to reduce the sources and incidence of foodborne illness," Rasooly said. "Equipment such as a commercial fluorometer, typically used to detect Shiga toxin and other pathogens, is too expensive for developing countries, where the risk of foodborne illness and outbreaks is greatest."

Rasooly and his colleagues have demonstrated the system is as effective in measuring Shiga toxin activity as a fluorometer. "Both instruments had the same toxin detection levels. The difference is that a fluorometer costs about $35,000 while the camera only costs $300, making it an affordable alternative for diagnostic labs," Avant explained, and the system easily can be adapted for detecting other foodborne toxins, such as Aflatoxin B1.

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