Canadian scientists are being asked to find faster ways to test for two dangerous bacteria that can be found in our food — E. coli and listeria.
Possible E. coli contamination was the reason behind a recent beef recall in Alberta. Listeria was the bacteria behind the outbreak that killed 22 people in 2008 in seven provinces.
Genome Canada awarded one contract for a new listeria test in October. The one for E. coli will be finalized in January.
Pierre Meulien is the president and CEO of Genome Canada.
"Hopefully we can do this much more rapidly," he said. "We're talking about what would be useful is less than an hour, maybe 15 minutes."
That's a dramatic contrast to the current sitation. It now takes 10 hours for a lab to confirm E. coli, five days for listeria. And Meulien pointed out that a genetic test can be done on site.
"So that you could many times in any particular food processing operation test a carcass, cheese, milk whatever kind of product you're in the process of making," Meulien said.
Dr. David Chalak is a veterinarian in Alberta. He's also chair of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, which is chipping in for part of this research. He says better testing helps industry find more foreign markets.
"Consumers in foreign countries have the same concerns as Canadians," Chalak said.
He was involved in the latest recall in Alberta, with XL Foods, and he said getting timely results can be difficult.
"When the plant is in Brooks [Alberta] and you've got to take the samples to Calgary, there is travel time. I mean a 10-hour test is when it goes on the Petri dish. So 10 hours? Don't take that literally. You're basically looking at 24 hours."
Both projects have tight deadlines. The scientists must finish their project within 18 months. Meulien hopes one day there will be similar tests for other harmful bacteria, such as C. difficile in hospitals.
ALSO: How To Avoid Getting E. Coli:
Cook all ground beef and hamburger thoroughly. Also remember to check to make sure the meat isn't pink inside, since ground beef can turn brown on the outside before disease-causing bacteria are killed. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the thickest part of the meat are cooked to at least 160 degrees F. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
If a restaurant serves undercooked meat send it back to be cooked thoroughly. About.com recommends asking for a new bun and clean plate too. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
Ensure your kitchen is kept clean to prevent spread of bacteria. Always keep raw meat separate from ready-to-eat food and wash hands, counters, thermometers, and utensils frequently. Also NEVER place cooked meat back on a plate that you kept the raw meat on. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
Drink only pasteurized milk, juice, or cider. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
Drink water that has been treated with chlorine or other effective disinfectants. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
Avoid swallowing lake or pool water when swimming. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com
People suffering from diarrhea, especially children, should use extreme caution. Wash hands with soap (and after changing diapers) and avoid swimming in public places, sharing baths or preparing food for others. Source: http://pediatrics.about.com