Engineering technology to thwart foodborne illnessesMarie Donlon | October 22, 2021
Anyone who has ever had food poisoning knows how unpleasant the experience is, likely leaving them suffering for hours on end in agony and subsequently swearing off whatever it was responsible for inflicting the illness.
According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, 48 million people in the U.S. become sick each year following exposure to pathogens, including E. coli, in food. No doubt inspired by their own bouts with food poisoning, researchers and engineers the world over have done their level best to prevent such foodborne illnesses via various technologies.
Join Enineering360 in a review of some recent examples of technology that promise to prevent the occurrence of food poisoning.
To ensure that foodborne illnesses can be prevented even in remote environments, researchers from Purdue University have developed a portable device for detecting pathogens in food associated with foodborne illnesses.
The silicon photomultiplier (SiPM) device relies on low light to indicate the presence of bacteria linked to foodborne illnesses within samples of food. The bioluminescent assay works in conjunction with an electrical circuit containing an amplifier, micro controller and comparator that transmits data to accompanying laptops and smartphones via Bluetooth.
To demonstrate how the device works, the team injected E. coli into samples of ground beef. After a period of incubation, the beef was introduced to a modified phage, or virus for bacteria, contained within an enrichment liquid. Once infected by the phage, the bacteria emitted light that was detectable using the SiPM.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
San Diego State University, Virginia Tech and Loyola Marymount University researchers have devised a technique that allows consumers to use AI to monitor food safety before purchasing a food product.
The new food safety monitoring system (FSMS) relies on customer comments featured in comment sections on websites, identifying products potentially associated with food-related illnesses.
To build the system, the team employed text mining — a type of AI — to analyze comments and reviews on two websites: Amazon.com and iwaspoisioned.com.
Using the text-mining algorithm, the computers were programmed to identify words related to foodborne illnesses — for instance, “sick,” “vomiting,” “fever” and “nausea.” Based on that information, the computer located a list of flagged products that included protein bars and powder and herbal teas, among others.
Engineers and food scientists from the University of Missouri have developed a durable coating that prevents the spread of foodborne germs on food processing surfaces.
The coating, which is composed of titanium dioxide, could potentially inactivate salmonella and E. coli on food handling surfaces in the food processing industry.
Exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light, oxygen and water, the titanium dioxide coating with its antimicrobial properties reportedly kills the bacteria on treated surfaces. The coating is applied in liquid form, eventually hardening into a ceramic-like material that is durable and mechanically resistant enough to withstand the wear and tear of the food processing industry.
New nanotechnology-based food packaging film developed by a European Union (EU)-funded project can reportedly extend the shelf life of perishable foods, protect against foodborne illnesses and prevent food waste.
Members of the NanoPack project have developed nanotech-based film packaging that minimizes the use of food preservatives, improves food safety and reduces food waste using natural nanomaterials and essential oils.
To develop the film, the team combined mineral carbon nanotubes within plastic packaging film along with pockets of natural essential oils including thyme and oregano, which both have demonstrated antimicrobial properties. The nanotubes emit the essential oils from the film and into the space surrounding the packaged food, thereby slowing oxidation, microbial growth and changes in moisture.
The participants demonstrated that the film has potential use cases for packaging perishables such as bread, meat, fish, dairy and fruits and vegetables.
Scientists from Ural Federal University and Ural Branch of Russian Academy of Science have developed surface disinfection technology for killing bacteria on packed eggs.
To safely and rapidly kill bacteria, the eggs are exposed to an electron beam for 50 nanoseconds (or one-billionth of a second). According to its developers, the technique kills bacteria like salmonella on the eggshells, protecting them from the potential for contamination during storage and also encourages the growth of broiler chickens immune to viral diseases.
Reportedly the surface disinfection technology does not alter the protein, yolk or shell of the eggs, nor does it impact the quality or volume of the chicks that eventually emerge from the treated eggs.
Further, the technology can irradiate up to 40 eggs per second and researchers suggest that the technology can eventually be applied to the eggs of different birds or to treat food encased in its own natural packaging such as seeds, oranges or bananas.
Researchers at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have developed a composite film to decrease the occurrence of foodborne illness outbreaks.
To accomplish this, the team fused an antimicrobial lining composed of pullalan — a polysaccharide made up of linked sugar, glycerin and cellulose molecules — injected with Lauric arginate — an antimicrobial that reportedly limits the growth of pathogens linked to the development of foodborne illnesses — to the inside layer of standard polyethylene plastic film often used in vacuum packaged foods.
During testing, the researchers introduced Shiga toxin-producing E. coli, Salmonella spp., Listeria monocytogenes and Staphylococcus aureus to the surfaces of raw beef, raw chicken breast and prepared turkey breast. The exposed meats were then vacuum sealed in the packaging containing the antimicrobial lining and stored in a refrigerator for 28 days.
Once the packaged meat was removed from refrigerated storage, researchers determined that the antimicrobial film reduced the development of foodborne pathogens. The combination of pullalan and Lauric arginate reportedly offered the slow and consistent disbursement of bacteria-killing antimicrobials over time. Researchers credited the Lauric aginate with preventing the growth of the four different bacteria types.
These are just a few examples of the efforts being undertaken to prevent foodborne illnesses. Check back with Engineering360 to see the latest developments in food and beverage technology, healthcare engineering and a variety of other engineering topics.