Safety in food

  • Health
  • Sunday, 18 May 2003

A rapid, accurate and cheap test for pathogens, including detecting genetically-modified (GMO) products, is essential to ensure quality in food manufacturing. Coupled with that, traceability is central to the safety of the food supply chain and Canadian-based Warnex Corporation has the solution. HAH FOONG LIAN reports. 

CONVENTIONAL methods to detect the presence of pathogens in food can be a laborious task and to make matters worse, they can be inaccurate in its findings. 

Mark Busgang...'The technology comes in the form of a test kit which has plastic wells coated with DNA markers for different bacteria.'

According to Warnex president Mark J. Busgang, current detection in microbiology is slow, inaccurate, labour-intensive and gives a high level of false positive and false negative results. “It can be up to 5% of false negatives and 10% of false positives,” he said in a recent interview at his office in Montreal. 

The current detection method where the sample sits in a petri-dish for a few days before the number of bacteria is counted can take between two and seven days for the results. 

With Warnex’s Genevision technology, Busgang says the results could be obtained in less than 24 hours. He notes that it is accurate, simple, reliable and affordable, adding that the technology has proven to produce less than 1% of false positives and false negatives. 

The genomics-based biotechnology company has already received approval from the Canadian authorities for the use of the kit to test for the pathogenic Salmonella in foods and it is expecting the approval for the bacterium Escherichia coli some time this month, says Busgang. 

Using DNA markers, he adds that the cutting edge technology provides a robust, rapid, accurate and automated genomics detection system that could be readily deployed in a manufacturing plant. 

Busgang, also chief executive officer of Warnex, says the technology comes in the form of a test kit which has plastic wells coated with DNA markers for different bacteria. 

The kit, he says, is also capable of detecting beneficial organisms and to test and identify GMOs (genetically modified organisms), including whether a certain product was fraudulent. The technology also comes with a software package to interpret the test results which can be saved into a computer and the information could be sent to the necessary parties, he says, adding that the e-link offered on-line support through the Internet. 

Traceability, central to the safety of the food supply chain, can also be conducted with the Genevision technology. 

Busgang says the ability to conduct a recall is based on the ability to rapidly trace goods throughout the supply and manufacturing chain – from the supplier of raw material and the processes in the manufacturing plant to the distribution of the products. 

Production management can be carried out through the use of molecular bar codes that can be introduced into any product, allowing for complete traceability, the primary condition to quality management in manufacturing. The solution, he says, is to add a molecular bar code into the product and the Genevision technology provides a manufacturer with the potential. 

The molecular bar codes allow for the creation of unique sequences of synthetic DNA molecules that can be read automatically at the same time as the pathogen testing. This provides instant traceability of the product, from the supplier of raw materials to the manufacturing steps involved in the production until the final consumer packaging is completed. 

Busgang says he bought the technology in June 2000 and has been working towards commercialising it by setting up a plant to manufacture the test kits. 

The plant, he says, have begun manufacturing the kits from last month and could produce 250,000 kits a year, based on one shift. 

He adds that the test kits could be configured to the needs of customers, thus offering customised solutions for different plants. With the technology, consumers can be assured of a safer food supply chain and it can help prevent environmental disasters from happening. 

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