The Food Safety Modernization Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama last year, gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to issue a recall without hard evidence of contamination. The agency now has the authority to “detain food products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded.”

More than ever, produce companies are looking for fast, cost-effective screening methods to allow them to test more frequently and reduce the number of samples needing culture testing, said Val Cureton, marketing communications manager for DeltaTRAK Inc., Pleasanton, Calif.

DeltaTRAK’s FlashCheck Real-Time Bacterial Enzyme Detection Kit won the award for best new food safety product in April at United Fresh 2012.

There actually are two products available:

  • FlashCheck Enzyme Surface Assay Detection kits test the total count or gram negative microorganisms directly from a food preparation surface.
  • FlashCheck Enzyme Food Surface Assay Detection kits detect gram negative microorganisms directly from a food product.

“The biggest demand within the produce industry would be from the processing and growing side,” Cureton said. “Processors have multiple steps where produce can come in contact with bacteria from various surfaces, such as conveyors or slicers. Growers will also have a large need for screening for bacteria where produce can be contaminated during growing or harvesting in the field. DeltaTRAK Bacteria Kits can be used on produce surfaces and equipment surfaces, such as harvesting and packaging machinery.”

Cureton said existing technologies have drawbacks that make them ineffective for produce growers and processors.

For example, she said ATP assays test for the presence of the molecule ATP, which is present in all organic material. That means that a positive ATP test only confirms that organic matter is present and does not necessarily indicate the presence of live bacteria.

Culture assays are accurate but require that a sample be incubated for 24-48 hours to verify the presence of bacteria. This means the sample must be sent to a laboratory.

“The need for lab work increases the cost of testing and may result in costly delays to processing,” she said.

DeltaTRAK’s kits provide results in as little as 20 minutes on site, are easy to use and provide highly accurate results at a lower cost, Cureton said.

DeltaTRAK detects live bacteria, but it doesn’t identify specific contaminants.

“Should tests come back positive, the next step is to send the sample to a lab in order to identify the type of bacteria present,” Cureton said. “Screening kits allow customers to reduce the amount of product they need to send to labs for culture testing, thus reducing costs and saving time.”