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Purdue researchers develop new handheld device to detect E. coli

A new way to detect a strain of E. coli could prevent some foodborne illness from hitting store shelves.

Posted: May 18, 2018 6:59 PM
Updated: May 24, 2018 9:43 AM

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI)-- A new way to detect a strain of E. coli could prevent some foodborne illness from hitting store shelves. Purdue Researchers Euiwon Bae and Bruce Applegate have now created a prototype to help prevent farmers from unknowingly spreading E. coli.

The specific strain of E.Coli, O157:H7, is the one getting everyone sick. With this device, inspectors can now see what's inside produce, right at their fingertips.

The outbreak involving contaminated Romaine lettuce may finally be coming to an end but researchers at Purdue have developed a way for inspectors and farmers to check produce before it gets to consumers.

The new technology, known as BAQS, can detect the strain of E. coli by using light detection. Lettuce or other produce is rinsed with a liquid containing modified phage, a virus for bacteria. Once the bacteria is detected, lights will appear on the screen notifying the user it is unsafe to consume.

One of the creators Euiwon Bae said this will give inspectors instant results.

"You can just swab any sample you want to detect whether they have E. coli O157H7 or not," Bae said. "Just put it in the system, turn on your app, we also developed an app, they will tell you whether it is a yes or a no."

Tippecanoe County Health Department Chief of Foods Ariel Endresen said even checking local gas stations for lettuce contaminations can be challenging. This new solution would help inspectors before the food comes into contact with buyers.

"We have to constantly come up with barriers because they're not going to wash their produce when someone picks it up," Endresen said. "So that would save time for us as well because you're going to protect that."

Purdue’s Center for Food Safety Engineering (CFSE) and USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) funded the research. The device is patented by the researchers but is not for sale just yet. Currently, it can only detect the specific strain of E. Coli but they hope to develop a product that can detect more.

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