CHICAGO — Oh the difference a day — or two — makes.

Faster testing key to food safetyThe highly perishable nature of fresh produce and increasing focus on foodborne illness outbreaks related to microbial pathogens combine to create a difficult situation for growers and shippers, said Ted Andrew, director of product marketing for Roka Bioscience, Warren, N.J.

Andrew presented a mini-session at the Food Safety Summit Resource Center on the show floor at Pack Expo Nov. 4. He detailed a strategy for determining what kind of pathogen detection system to buy using the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point reviews.

“You don’t necessarily have to test more. You need to test better,” Andrew said.

Better testing includes detecting lower levels of pathogens and detecting them faster, he said. Most equipment and methods in use are outdated, he said, citing culture plates that have been used since the 1880s.

The equipment most commonly used by growers, shippers and third-party labs rely on measuring pathogens’ DNA, rather than RNA, Andrew said. The problem with DNA is that it is much less prevalent in any given sample than DNA — by a factor of thousands.

Roka has developed a testing process and equipment that measures pathogen RNA, making it easier to detect microbial contaminants at lower levels, Andrew said. The Atlas system from Roka also produces results in 11 to 12 hours instead of the standard two or three days required with other methods.

The Atlas system also reduces ambiguous results and has only one operator step, which reduces the chances of human error, Andrew said. To use the system, a sample is collected in a tube, which is then placed in the testing device. From there the technology takes over, measuring and recording data without further human manipulation.

“It provides complete traceability of the data,” Andrew said.