Tiny Sensors Detect Huge Diseases
Sensors developed by food safety engineer Bryan Chin are revolutionizing the way inspectors test food for biological pathogens that sicken about one in six Americans each year.
A 2011 outbreak of Listeria claimed 16 lives in Colorado. Salmonella contamination of eggs, tomatoes, jalapenos and peanut butter from 2008 to 2010 infected thousands of people and caused damages estimated at more than $1 billion. Stories of major outbreaks like these are much too common, demonstrating the need for improved rapid detection of biological pathogens on food.
Chin leads Auburn’s Detection and Food Safety Center where experts are developing “dust sensor” technology. The new technology makes it cost-effective and easier for inspectors to monitor crops in the field where salmonella and other bacteria and pathogens often breed.
Using Auburn’s technology, widespread epidemics of food-borne illness will be prevented. Field-ready test kits, about the size of a deck of cards, enable rapid screening of tomatoes, lettuce, peanuts and eggs. In the past, the expense and lengthy process of traditional testing meant inspectors usually tested just a few samples, limiting their ability to find harmful bacteria that can reach dinner tables and restaurants.
Chin and his fellow researchers are putting ideas to work by advancing biosensor technology. Their goal is an efficient and inexpensive system that protects our food supply from production to consumption.
Bryan Chin, Ph.D
Dr. Chin is a Professor in the Materials Research and Education Center at Auburn University, chairman of the Materials Engineering program, and director of AUDFS (the Auburn University Detection and Food Safety Center).
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