One of the greatest risks for the food industry is the intoxication of the population due to the presence of pathogens in its products. These pathogens can come from the raw material when sacrificing the animal, or from any point of the chain of production, meaning it is necessary to conduct microbiological and cleaning controls at several points. Food safety regulation is strict and entails, for example, the immobilising of entire product batches until test results are negative. This waiting time is especially detrimental for the industry in the case of perishable foods such as fresh meat, for example.
Now, a team of researchers of the Centre for Nanophotonic Technology (NTC) of Valencia's Polytechnic University (UPV), with funding from the Valencian Agency for Innovation (AVI), has developed integrated photonic sensors named Photonics Integrated Circuits (PIC), to deal with the microbiological control of the meat industry.
As NTC spokespeople explain, one of the priorities in the field of food technology is to develop fast and affordable measuring systems that are applicable to the analysis and control of products and processes. In fact, the ideal scenario would be to be able to monitor the parameters of interest at each step of the process in an affordable way for all processed products. Detecting the presence of pathogens is currently based on the classic plate culture and counting methods. These methods require a waiting time of around 48 hours in order to obtain the results, and also require specific training on behalf of the laboratory technicians.
The sensors developed by the NTC overcome all these inconveniences. They make it possible to detect one of the greatest enemies of the sector, the Eschericia Coli bacteria, quickly, affordably and with great accuracy. Thus, its use would contribute to, on one hand, 'free up' immobilised food batches quickly, and on the other, to guarantee the safety of the production chain of this food industry.
For the validation of the sensors, the NTC collaborated with LUMENSIA SENSORS, a Valencian startup focused on developing systems for biological control with uses linked to food safety. "The cooperation among both entities has led to a portable, very fast, cheap, simple to use method with a high sensitivity, which makes it possible to detect much smaller levels of presence of pathogens compared to the traditional systems that are currently used as a standard in microbiological control," highlight NTC researchers.
The NTC kit has been developed to detect E. Coli but can be extrapolated to detect other bacteria. "Thus, this new generation of sensors is seen as a great ally to guarantee the safety of products developed in the meat industry," the NTC researchers conclude.
Technological Institute AINIA has also taken part in the project.